Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. The immune system normally protects us from infection and illness. But in people who have RA, the immune system receives a mixed signal – or doesn't function properly – which causes inflammation in the joints. If it's not treated, the inflammation can damage the joints. The first symptom is often joint pain, but RA can also affect other systems in the body.
Who is at risk of rheumatoid arthritis?
People can be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at any age. It affects women more frequently than men. In fact, women are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with RA than men.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
Joint pain is the most common symptom, as well as joint swelling and reduced range of motion. RA is described as symmetrical because it typically affects both sides of the body. Many joints can be affected, but the mostly commonly affected joints include the fingers, wrists and toes.
Rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis
There is no single factor used to diagnose RA. Instead, diagnosis is made based on the combination of a person's medical history, a medical exam, blood tests and imaging tests, such as X-ray and MRI.
Rheumatoid arthritis treatment
The primary treatment for RA is medications that target the immune system. These medications are referred to as immunosuppressants. There are 2 large categories of immunosuppressants:
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you and your doctor will together determine which medications are right for you, based on your physical condition and lifestyle needs.
Your physician may refer you to a physical or occupational therapist for part of your treatment. Here, you may learn exercises for joint flexibility, or you may learn new ways to perform routine tasks, such as getting dressed.
Why choose us for rheumatoid arthritis care
Since RA is a disease that affects many systems in the body, it often requires the collaboration of multiple specialists to develop a care plan for each person with this condition. The University of Kansas Health System has all of these specialties available within one organization.