What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease that can affect multiple joints in the body. RA is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system—which normally functions to protect us against infections—mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints. The cause of this malfunctioning immune system is still unknown and while there is no cure for RA, there are some very effective medications and therapies to control the symptoms and results of the inflammation.
Inflammation in the joints causes pain, stiffness and swelling. If this inflammation continues, it can lead to damage of the joint. The inflammation can affect other organs, such as the nerves, eyes, skin, lungs or heart.
The symptoms of RA vary widely from person to person. In many cases, RA starts in a few joints then spreads to other joints over a few weeks to months. RA can also progress extremely quickly; some people report that one morning they just could not get out of bed.
The earliest symptoms of RA can be non-specific, including feeling unwell or tired, soreness around joints and muscles, low-grade fever, and weight loss/poor appetite. As time goes on, RA can involve more and more joints on both sides of the body, often in a “symmetrical” pattern.
About one out of every 100 adult Canadians has RA. That’s about 300,000 Canadians. Anyone can get RA and at any age. RA affects women two to three times more often than men.
There is no cure for RA. However, people who are diagnosed and treated early can avoid pain and damage to their joints, and lead active and productive lives.
To learn more about your patient journey with rheumatoid arthritis, click here.
This information was last updated September 2017, with expert advice from:
Bindee Kuriya, MD, SM, FRCPC
View All Arthritis Types (A - Z)
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology University of Toronto