Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an incurable chronic inflammatory disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of function in the joints throughout the body, but most typically affects the small joints of the hands and feet. The immune system is supposed to protect the body, but with rheumatoid arthritis, it turns against the body, attacking tissues and even organs including the eyes and lungs. There is no definitive cause and no known cure, although researchers are focused on finding one. Rheumatoid arthritis can strike at any age although it usually begins between the ages of 40 and 60 and is more common in women than men. Early diagnosis is important because if left untreated, it can cause joint damage and even permanent joint destruction.
Rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of developing other health problems including osteoporosis – bone loss that leads to weak and brittle bones that are highly susceptible to fracture; carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition caused by a pinched nerve in the wrist that leads to numbness, tingling and weakness in the hands and wrists; heart problems such as clogged arteries, heart attack and heart failure; and inflammation and scarring of the lung tissues, which can lead to progressive shortness of breath.