rheumatoid arthritis

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Rheumatoid Arthritis



Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and deformity of the joints. Other problems throughout the body (systemic problems) may also develop, including inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitis), the development of bumps (called rheumatoid nodules) in various parts of the body, lung disease, blood disorders, and weakening of the bones (osteoporosis).


The skeletal system of the body is made up of different types of strong, fibrous tissue called connective tissue. Bone, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons are all forms of connective tissue that have different compositions and different characteristics.
The joints are structures that hold two or more bones together. Some joints (synovial joints) allow for movement between the bones being joined (articulating bones). The simplest synovial joint involves two bones, separated by a slight gap called the joint cavity. The ends of each articular bone are covered by a layer of cartilage. Both articular bones and the joint cavity are surrounded by a tough tissue called the articular capsule. The articular capsule has two components, the fibrous membrane on the outside and the synovial membrane (or synovium) on the inside. The fibrous membrane may include tough bands of tissue called ligaments, which are responsible for providing support to the joints. The synovial membrane has special cells and many tiny blood vessels (capillaries). This membrane produces a supply of synovial fluid that fills the joint cavity, lubricates it, and helps the articular bones move smoothly about the joint.
In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the synovial membrane becomes severely inflamed. Usually thin and delicate, the synovium becomes thick and stiff, with numerous infoldings on its surface. The membrane is invaded by white blood cells, which produce a variety of destructive chemicals. The cartilage along the articular surfaces of the bones may be attacked and destroyed, and the bone, articular capsule, and ligaments may begin to wear away (erode). These processes severely interfere with movement in the joint.
RA exists all over the world and affects men and women of all races. In the United States alone, about two million people suffer from the disease. Women are three times more likely than men to have RA. About 80% of people with RA are diagnosed between the ages of 35-50. RA appears to run in families, although certain factors in the environment may also influence the development of the disease.

Causes and symptoms

The underlying event that promotes RA in a person is unknown. Given the known genetic factors involved in RA, some researchers have suggested that an outside event occurs that triggers the disease cycle in a person with a particular genetic makeup.
Many researchers are examining the possibility that exposure to an organism (like a bacteria or virus) may be the first event in the development of RA. The body's normal response to such an organism is to produce cells that can attack and kill the organism, protecting the body from the foreign invader. In an autoimmune disease like RA, this immune cycle spins out of control. The body produces misdirected immune cells, which accidentally identify parts of the person's body as foreign. These immune cells then produce a variety of chemicals that injure and destroy parts of the body.
RA can begin very gradually, or it can strike quickly. The first symptoms are pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. The most commonly involved joints include hands, feet, wrists, elbows, and ankles, although other joints may also be involved. The joints are affected in a symmetrical fashion. This means that if the right wrist is involved, the left wrist is also involved. Patients frequently experience painful joint stiffness when they first get up in the morning, lasting for perhaps an hour. Over time, the joints become deformed. The joints may be difficult to straighten, and affected fingers and toes may be permanently bent (flexed). The hands and feet may curve outward in an abnormal way.
Many patients also notice increased fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, and sometimes fever. Rheumatoid nodules are bumps that appear under the skin around the joints and on the top of the arms and legs. These nodules can also occur in the tissue covering the outside of the lungs and lining the chest cavity (pleura), and in the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges). Lung involvement may cause shortness of breath and is seen more in men. Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) may interfere with blood circulation. This can result in irritated pits (ulcers) in the skin, tissue death (gangrene), and interference with nerve functioning that causes numbness and tingling.
Juvenile RA is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the joints of children less than 16 years old. It is estimated to affect as many as 250,000 children in the United States alone. Most children with juvenile RA have arthritis when the illness starts, which affects multiple joints in 50% of these children, and only one joint in 30%. In all, 20% of the children affected by juvenile RA have the acute systemic form of the disease, which is characterized by fever, joint inflammation, rash, liver disease, and gastrointestinal disease.
Two periods of childhood are associated with an increased incidence of onset of juvenile RA. The first is from one to three years of age, and the second, from eight to 12 years. When more than four joints are affected, the disease is described as being polyarticular. If less than four joints are affected, the disease is known as pauciarticular. juvenile RA and this particular manifestation falls into two categories. The first occurs in girls aged one to four years old, and the onset of joint involvement is in the knees, ankles, or elbows. The second form occurs in boys aged eight years and older, and involves the larger joints, such as those of the hips and legs.


There are no tests available that can absolutely diagnose RA. Instead, a number of tests exist that can suggest the diagnosis of RA. Blood tests include a special test of red blood cells (called erythrocyte sedimentation rate), which is positive in nearly 100% of patients with RA. However, this test is also positive in a variety of other diseases. Tests for anemia are usually positive in patients with RA, but can also be positive in many other unrelated diseases. Rheumatoid factor is another diagnostic test that measures the presence and amounts of rheumatoid factor in the blood. Rheumatoid factor is an autoantibody found in about 80% of patients with RA. It is often not very specific however, because it is found in about 5% of all healthy people and in 10-20% of healthy people over the age of 65. In addition, rheumatoid factor is also positive in a large number of other autoimmune diseases and other infectious diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus, bacterial endocarditis, malaria, and syphilis. In addition, young people who have a process called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis often have no rheumatoid factor present in their blood.
Finally, the clinician may examine the synovial fluid, by inserting a thin needle into a synovial joint. In RA, this fluid has certain characteristics that indicate active inflammation. The fluid is cloudy, with increased protein and decreased or normal glucose. It also contains a higher than normal number of white blood cells. While these findings suggest inflammatory arthritis, they are not specific to RA.


There is no cure available for RA. However, treatment is available to combat the inflammation in order to prevent destruction of the joints, and to prevent other complications of the disease. Efforts are also made to maintain flexibility and mobility of the joints.
The "first line" agents for the treatment of RA include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) and aspirin, which are used to decrease inflammation and to treat pain. The NSAIDs include naproxen (Naprosyn), ibuprofen (Advil, Medipren, Motrin), and etodolac (Lodine). While these medications can be helpful, they do not interrupt the progress of the disease. Low-dose steroid medications can be helpful at both managing symptoms and slowing the progress of RA. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, including gold compounds, D-penicillamine, certain antimalarial-like drugs, and sulfasalazine (Azulfadine) are also often the first agents clinicians use to treat RA, but in patients with the aggressive destructive type of RA, more slow-acting medications are needed. Methotrexate, azathioprine, and cyclophosphamide are all drugs that suppress the immune system and can decrease inflammation. All of the drugs listed have significant toxic side effects, which require healthcare professionals to carefully compare the risks associated with these medications versus the benefits.
Recently, several categories of drugs have been explored and developed for the treatment of RA. The first is a category of agents known as biological response modifiers. These work to reduce joint inflammation by blocking a substance called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). TNF is a protein that triggers inflammation during the body's normal immune responses. When TNF production is not regulated, the excess TNF can cause inflammation. Three agents in this class have become "second line" drugs for the treatment of RA. These are etanercept (Enbrel), leflunamide (Arava), and infliximab (Remicade), and they are recommended for patients in whom other medications have not been effective. Etanercept is approved by the FDA but is not recommended for patients with active infection. It is given twice weekly via subcutaneous injections by either the patient or a health care professional. Because this agent is so new, long-term side effects have not been fully studied. Infliximab is given intravenously once every eight weeks, and is approved for combined use with methotrexate to combat RA.
The cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors are another category of drugs used to treat RA. Like the traditional NSAIDs, the COX-2 inhibitors work to block COX-2, which is an enzyme that stimulates inflammatory responses in the body. Unlike the NSAIDs, the COX-2 inhibitors do not carry a high risk of gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeding, because they do not inhibit COX-1, which is the enzyme that protects the stomach lining. These new agents include celecoxib (Celebrex) and rofecoxib (Vioxx). Celecoxib has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of RA and osteoarthritis, and is taken once or twice daily by mouth. Rofecoxib is approved for RA and osteoarthritis, and for acute pain caused by primary dysmenorrhea and surgery.
Total bed rest is sometimes prescribed during the very active, painful phases of RA. Splints may be used to support and rest painful joints. Later, after inflammation has somewhat subsided, physical therapists may provide a careful exercise regimen in an attempt to maintain the maximum degree of flexibility and mobility. Joint replacement surgery, particularly for the knee and the hip joints, is sometimes recommended when these joints have been severely damaged.

Alternative treatment

A variety of alternative therapies has been recommended for patients with RA. Meditation, hypnosis, guided imagery, and relaxation techniques have been used effectively to control pain. Acupressure and acupuncture have also been used for pain. Bodywork can be soothing, decreasing stress and tension, and is thought to improve/restore chemical balance within the body.
A multitude of nutritional supplements can be useful for RA. Fish oils, the enzymes bromelain and pancreatin, and the antioxidants (vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, and zinc) are the primary supplements to consider.
Many herbs also are useful in the treatment of RA. Anti-inflammatory herbs may be very helpful, including tumeric (Curcuma longa), ginger (Zingiber officinale), feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium), devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), Chinese thoroughwax (Bupleuri falcatum), and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) and cramp bark (Vibernum opulus) can be applied topically to the affected joints.
Homeopathic practitioners recommended Rhus toxicondendron and Bryonia (Bryonia alba) for acute prescriptions, but constitutional treatment, generally used for chronic problems like RA, is more often recommended. Yoga has been used for RA patients to promote relaxation, relieve stress, and improve flexibility. Nutritionists suggest that a vegetarian diet low in animal products and sugar may help to decrease both inflammation and pain from RA. Beneficial foods for patients with RA include cold water fish (mackerel, herring, salmon, and sardines) and flavonoid-rich berries (cherries, blueberries, hawthorn berries, blackberries, etc.).
RA, considered an autoimmune disorder, is often connected with food allergies/intolerances. An elimination/challenge diet can help to decrease symptoms of RA as well as identify the foods that should be eliminated to prevent flare-ups and recurrences. Hydrotherapy can help to greatly reduce pain and inflammation. Moist heat is more effective than dry heat, and cold packs are useful during acute flare-ups.


About 15% of all RA patients will have symptoms for a short period of time and will ultimately get better, leaving them with no long-term problems. A number of factors are considered to suggest the likelihood of a worse prognosis. These include:
  • race and gender (female and Caucasian).
  • more than 20 joints involved.
  • extremely high erythrocyte sedimentation rate.
  • extremely high levels of rheumatoid factor.
  • consistent, lasting inflammation.
  • evidence of erosion of bone, joint, or cartilage on x rays.
  • poverty.
  • older age at diagnosis.
  • rheumatoid nodules.
  • other coexisting diseases.
  • certain genetic characteristics, diagnosable through testing.
Patients with RA have a shorter life span, averaging a decrease of three to seven years of life. Patients sometimes die when very severe disease, infection, and gastrointestinal bleeding occur. Complications due to the side effects of some of the more potent drugs used to treat RA are also factors in these deaths.


There is no known way to prevent the development of RA. The most that can be hoped for is to prevent or slow its progress.

Key terms

Articular bones — Two or more bones connected to each other via a joint.
Joint — Structures holding two or more bones together.
Pauciarticular juvenile RA — Rheumatoid arthritis found in children that affects less than four joints.
Polyarticular juvenile RA — Rheumatoid arthritis found in children that affects more than four joints.
Synovial joint — A type of joint that allows articular bones to move.
Synovial membrane — The membrane that lines the inside of the articular capsule of a joint and produces a lubricating fluid called synovial fluid.



Arthritis Foundation. The Good Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. New York: Longstreet Press Inc., 2000.


Case, J. P. "Old and New Drugs Used in Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Historical Perspective. Part 2: The Newer Drugs and Drug Strategies." American Journal of Therapeutics May-June 2001: 163-79.
Goekoop, Y. P., et al. "Combination Therapy in Rheumatoid Arthritis." Current Opinions in Rheumatology May 2001: 177-83.
Koivuniemi, R., and M. Leirisalo-Repo. "Juvenile Chronic Arthritis in Adult Life: A Study of Long-term Outcome in Patients with Juvenile Chronic Arthritis or Adult Rhuematoid Arthritis." Clinical Rheumatology 1999: 220-6.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


 [ahr-thri´tis] (pl. arthri´tides)
inflammation of a joint. adj., adj arthrit´ic. The term is often used by the public to indicate any disease involving pain or stiffness of the musculoskeletal system. Arthritis is not a single disease, but a group of over 100 diseases that cause pain and limit movement. The most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
 Arthritis of the fingers. Left, normal hand and finger. Right, arthritic hand and finger, with ankylosis, or “locking” of the joint by bone and scar tissue. Courtesy of Bergman Associates.
acute arthritis arthritis marked by pain, heat, redness, and swelling.
acute rheumatic arthritis swelling, tenderness, and redness of many joints of the body, accompanying rheumatic fever.
hypertrophic arthritis rheumatoid arthritis marked by hypertrophy of the cartilage at the edge of the joints; osteoarthritis.
juvenile rheumatoid arthritis rheumatoid arthritis in children under age 16, characterized by swelling, tenderness, and pain, involving one joint or several joints and lasting more than six weeks. It may lead to impaired growth and development, limitation of movement, and ankylosis and contractures of joints. At times it is accompanied by systemic manifestations such as spiking fever, transient rash on the trunk and limbs, hepatosplenomegaly, generalized lymphadenopathy, and anemia, in which case it is known as Still's disease or systemic onset juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
Lyme arthritis Lyme disease.
psoriatic arthritis that associated with severe psoriasis, classically affecting the terminal interphalangeal joints.
rheumatoid arthritis a chronic systemic disease characterized by inflammatory changes occurring throughout the body's connective tissues. As such, it is classified as a collagen disease. This form of arthritis strikes during the most productive years of adulthood, with onset in the majority of cases between the ages of 20 and 40. No age is spared, however, and the disease may affect infants as well as the very old. The disease affects men and women about equally in number, but three times as many women as men develop symptoms severe enough to require medical attention.
Etiology. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown and it is doubtful that there is one specific cause. It is regarded by some researchers as an autoimmune disease, in which the body produces abnormal antibodies against its own cells and tissues. Evidence to support this theory is found in the fact that there is an abnormally high level of certain types of immunoglobulins in the blood of patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Other researchers contend that the disease may be due to infection, perhaps from an undefined virus or some other microorganism (e.g., Mycoplasma). There also is the possibility that rheumatoid arthritis is a genetic disorder in which one inherits a predisposition to the disease. Physical and emotional stress also play some part in the onset of acute attacks; however, psychological stress is implicated as a causative factor in the onset of many illnesses.
Symptoms and Pathology. In about 75 per cent of patients the onset of rheumatoid arthritis is gradual, with only mild symptoms at the beginning. Early symptoms include malaise, fever, weight loss, and morning stiffness of the joints. One or more joints may become swollen, painful, and inflamed. Some patients may experience only mild episodes of acute symptoms with lengthy remissions. The more typical patient, however, experiences increasingly severe and frequent attacks with subsequent joint damage and deformity. The pattern of remissions and exacerbations continues throughout the course of the disease.

If untreated, and sometimes in spite of treatment, the joint pathology goes through four stages: (1) proliferative inflammation of the synovium with increased exudate, which eventually leads to thickening of the synovium; (2) formation of a layer of granulation tissue (pannus) that erodes and destroys the cartilage and eventually spreads to contiguous areas, causing destruction of the bone capsule and parts of the muscles that control the joint; (3) fibrous ankylosis resulting from invasion of the pannus by tough fibrous tissue; and (4) bony ankylosis as the fibrous tissue becomes calcified.

In addition to the joint changes there is atrophy of muscles, bones, and skin adjacent to the affected joint. The most characteristic lesions of rheumatoid arthritis are subcutaneous nodules, which may be present for weeks or months and are most commonly found over bony prominences, especially near the elbow.

Because rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, there is involvement of connective tissues other than those in the musculoskeletal system. Degenerative lesions may be found in the collagen in the lungs, heart, blood vessels, and pleura.

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis appear undernourished and chronically ill. Most are anemic because of the effect of the disease on blood-forming organs. The erythrocyte sedimentation rate is elevated and the WBC may be slightly elevated.
Treatment and Patient Care. Management of rheumatoid arthritis is aimed at providing rest and freedom from pain, minimizing emotional stress, preventing or correcting deformities, and maintaining or restoring function so that the patient can enjoy as much independence and mobility as possible. Occupational therapy is needed to teach patients effective ways to carry out such activities of daily living as grooming and self-care, preparing meals, and light housekeeping. This often involves using specially designed utensils and tools that allow deformed joints to perform these tasks.
Rest and Exercise. It is recommended that the patient with rheumatoid arthritis plan for 10 to 12 hours of sleep out of each 24. The patient should be careful to maintain good posture while lying in bed and avoid pillows or other devices that support the joints in a flexed position. A firm mattress is recommended, with only one pillow under the head. During periods of severe attacks, the patient may require continuous bed rest.

The purpose of rest is to allow the body's natural defenses against inflammation to work at optimal level. It is necessary, however, even in the acute phase to balance rest with prescribed exercises which take into account the severity of the case, the joints affected, and the patient's individual needs and tolerance.
Physical Therapy. The goals of physical therapy for the patient with rheumatoid arthritis are to prevent and correct deformities, control pain, strengthen weakened muscles, and improve function.

Therapeutic exercise is of major importance in the physical therapy program established for the patient. It is necessary to enlist the patient's cooperation, and this can be done most effectively by explaining the purposes of the exercises and teaching ways to exercise that will not increase pain. In many instances proper exercise can actually diminish pain. The patient's tolerance for exercise must be carefully monitored. While it is expected that some discomfort may be present during exercise, there should not be persistent pain that continues for hours after the exercises have been done. If such pain and fatigue do occur, the exercise program should be reviewed and revised so that a good balance of rest and exercise is obtained. It should be remembered that overactivity can contribute to the inflammatory process.

Applications of heat or cold may be used in the management of rheumatoid arthritis. Heat applications improve circulation, promote relaxation, and relieve pain. When used in conjunction with exercise, heat can allow more freedom of joint movement. Various forms of heat therapy may be used, including dry heat, moist heat, diathermy, and ultrasound. For dry heat a therapeutic infrared heat lamp may be most convenient during home care. Hot water bottles or electric heating pads also may be used. For treatment of the hands, paraffin baths are effective. Wet heat can be applied by hot tub baths with the water temperature not exceeding 39°C (102°F) or by means of a towel dipped in hot water, wrung out, and applied to the joint. Whirlpool baths are effective, especially when prolonged treatment is indicated. Relief from pain and stiffness can be provided for some patients by applications of cold packs to the affected joints. This can be done by placing ice packs directly over the joint. When either heat or cold is used, care must be taken to protect the patient's skin. It should be remembered that rheumatoid arthritis affects the skin as well as other tissues.

Whenever it is necessary to handle the joints and limbs of a patient with rheumatoid arthritis, it is extremely important to move slowly and gently, avoiding sudden, jarring movements which stimulate muscle contraction and produce pain. The affected joints should be supported so that there is no excessive motion.
Medication. There is no drug that will cure arthritis. The health care provider does have a variety of medications that may be prescribed, depending on the needs and tolerance of the patient. It is important that the patient be advised of the expected results and possible undesirable side effects that may accompany ingestion of certain drugs. He or she should also be advised that therapeutic trials of several different drugs may be necessary. With this information at hand, he or she can work cooperatively with the physician in determining which drug or drugs can be most beneficial for treatment of the condition.

Aspirin was among the first drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and remains a low-cost treatment option. It is a potent antiinflammatory agent when given at dosages that achieve a serum level of 20–30 mg/100 ml. For those prone to stomach upset or other gastrointestinal side effects from aspirin, enteric-coated tablets or antacid mixtures of aspirin are available.

Other nonaspirin, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include the indole derivatives indomethacin, sulindac, and tolmetin and the phenylalkanoic acid derivatives fenoprofen, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Nowadays NSAIDs are the most used group of medications for treatment of arthritis. They may provide more relief than aspirin for certain patients, but they also may have side effects related to the gastrointestinal and nervous systems. COX-2 (cyclooxygenase-2) inhibitors are the latest class of NSAIDs. They have fewer gastrointestinal side effects than other NSAIDs.

Cytotoxic agents may also be used; these drugs act as immunosuppressants and block the inflammatory process of the disease. methotrexate is the most common of these. The dosage for the management of rheumatoid arthritis is much lower than the dosages for malignancies; thus the associated side effects are fewer. gold compounds or penicillamine may be prescribed for selected patients who cannot tolerate or are not responding well to more conservative methods of treatment.

The corticosteroids may be used in treating rheumatoid arthritis, but they are not a substitute for other forms of treatment. In some cases these drugs produce side effects that are more difficult to treat than arthritis. They also may worsen certain features of the disease rather than relieve them. Drugs included in this group are cortisone, hydrocortisone, prednisone, prednisolone, and dexamethasone.

Another group of medications that reduce inflammation are the biological response modifiers. Members of this group used to treat arthritis include etanercept and infliximab.
Surgical Intervention and Orthopedic Devices. In the past, surgical intervention was reserved for patients who had already suffered severe joint deformity. There is presently a trend toward the use of surgery in the early stages of the disease so that deformities and serious mechanical abnormalities can be prevented or at least modified.

One surgical procedure employed is synovectomy (excision of the synovial membrane of a joint). The goal of this treatment is to interrupt the destructive inflammatory processes that eventually lead to ankylosis and invasion of surrounding cartilage and bone tissues.

Surgical repair of a hip joint (arthroplasty) may be performed when there is extensive damage and ambulation is not possible. The purpose of this procedure is to restore, improve, or maintain joint function. In cases in which it is not possible to restore the damaged hip joint there is a surgical procedure in which the diseased joint is completely replaced with a total hip prosthesis. The procedure is called a total hip replacement. A similar procedure involving total replacement of the knee can be done when there is extensive damage to the knee joint.

Braces, casts, or splints are sometimes used to immobilize the affected part so that it can rest during an active stage of the disease. Devices that immobilize the affected joint also may allow for motion of adjacent muscle, thereby improving muscle strength and permitting more independence on the part of the patient. Braces also may be used to prevent deformities by maintaining good position of the joints.
Patient Education. Unfortunately, arthritis is so widespread and such a crippling disease that its victims may be easy prey for charlatans and promoters of “miraculous cures.” The nature of the disease, with its unexplained remissions and relief of symptoms, makes it easy for unscrupulous individuals to convince the arthritic patient that some bizarre treatment they have used has indeed “cured” the arthritis. It is important that members of the health team recognize the need for patient education and work diligently with the patient and family so that they can cooperatively participate in a program of care that is most effective for the individual patient.

Home care is an essential part of the management of arthritis. To help in education of the public The Arthritis Foundation provides a number of pamphlets and other educational materials, supports a broad program of research and education, and helps finance improvement of local facilities for treatment of arthritis. The address of the foundation is The Arthritis Foundation, 1330 W. Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30309, telephone 404-872-7100.
suppurative arthritis inflammation of a joint with a purulent effusion into the joint, due chiefly to bacterial infection.
systemic onset juvenile rheumatoid arthritis Still's disease.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

rheu·ma·toid ar·thri·tis (RA),

a generalized disease, occurring more often in women, which primarily affects connective tissue; arthritis is the dominant clinical manifestation, involving many joints, especially those of the hands and feet, accompanied by thickening of articular soft tissue, with extension of synovial tissue over articular cartilages, which become eroded; the course is variable but often is chronic and progressive, leading to deformities and disability.
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012

rheumatoid arthritis

A chronic autoimmune disease marked by stiffness and inflammation of the joints, fatigue, and weakness, and often, in later stages, severe joint damage and disability.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatology A multisystem autoimmune disease characterized by chronic inflammation of multiple joints; RA is defined by the 1987 revised criteria, which requires that criteria 1-4 be present for > 6 wks Lab IgG autoantibodies, aka rheumatoid factors Management Etanercept ↓ disease activity in therapeutically refractive RA
Rheumatoid arthritis–Revised criteria
1. Periarticular morning stiffness lasting ≥ one hour before maximum improvement
2. Soft tissue swelling ('arthritis') of ≥ 3 joints observed by a physician
3. Swelling ('arthritis') of proximal interphalangeal, metacarpophalangeal or wrist joints
4. Symmetric swelling ('arthritis')
5. Rheumatoid nodules
6. Presence of rheumatoid factor
7. Roentgenographic erosions and/or periarticular osteopenia
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

rheu·ma·toid ar·thri·tis

(RA) (rū'mă-toyd ahr-thrī'tis)
A systemic disease, occurring more often in women, which affects connective tissue; arthritis is the dominant clinical manifestation, involving many joints, especially those of the hands and feet, accompanied by thickening of articular soft tissue, with extension of synovial tissue over articular cartilages, which become eroded; the course is variable but often is chronic and progressive, leading to deformities and disability.
Synonym(s): arthritis deformans, nodose rheumatism (1) .
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012
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rheumatoid arthritis

A chronic systemic disease marked by inflammation of multiple synovial joints. The disease usually affects similar groups of joints on both sides of the body and can create bony erosions that can be seen radiographically. Subcutaneous nodule formation and elevated serum rheumatoid factor levels are common. Patients typically complain of joint stiffness in the morning rather than after activities. Women are affected three times more often than men. Members of some ethnic groups, such as certain Native Americans, have higher rates of this disease than the general population. The illness usually begins in mid-life, but any age group can be affected. See: illustration See: Gripping with Rheumatoid Arthritis


Factors implicated in the development and the severity of this disease include genetics (e.g., HLA haplotypes), autoimmune phenomena, and environmental influences.


Joint pains, morning stiffness, gelling, malaise, and fatigue are often present. Systemic disease marked by pleural effusions, pericarditis, pulmonary fibrosis, neuropathies, and ocular disorders may occu. Symptoms usually develop gradually over the course of several months but may begin abruptly in some patients.


Most rheumatologists recommend aggressive therapy with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) early in the course of the illness to prevent bony erosions and loss of joint function. Drugs in this class include agents like methotrexate. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, e.g., ibuprofen or corticosteroids are often prescribed for palliation. Many patients may continue to take low-dose corticosteroids for years, but the benefits of long-term steroid use must be weighed against the risks, such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and adrenal suppression. Gold compounds can be used, but they are weaker than DMARDs and newer agents. Newer agents include antibodies to tumor necrosis factor and other immunomodulatory drugs. Powerful immunosuppressive agents like cyclosporine, azathioprine, and mycophenolate may also be used. Combination therapies involving several agents from different classes can be used. Joint replacement surgery can be helpful for some patients. Homeopathic substances such as black currant (gamma linolenic acid) and fish oil have demonstrated efficacy in rheumatoid arthritis

Patient care

All joints are assessed for inflammation, deformities, and contractures. The patient's ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) is evaluated. The patient is assessed for fatigue. Vital signs are monitored, and weight changes, pain (location, quality, severity, inciting and relieving factors), and morning stiffness (esp. duration) are documented. Use of moist heat is encouraged to relieve stiffness and pain. Prescribed anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs are administered and evaluated; the patient is taught about the use of these medications. Patient response to all medications is evaluated, esp. after a change in drug regimen, and the patient and family are taught to recognize the purpose, schedule, and side effects of each. Over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies may interact with prescribed drugs and should not be taken unless approved by physicians or pharmacists. Inflamed joints are occasionally splinted in extension to prevent contractures. Pressure areas are noted, and range of motion is maintained with gentle, passive exercise if the patient cannot comfortably perform active movement. Once inflammation has subsided, the patient is instructed in active range-of-motion exercise for specific joints. Warm baths or soaks are encouraged before or during exercise. Cleansing lotions or oils should be used for dry skin. The patient is encouraged to perform ADLs, if possible, allowing extra time as needed. Assistive and safety devices may be recommended for some patients. The patient should pace activities, alternate sitting and standing, and take short rest periods. Referral to an occupational or physical therapist helps keep joints in optimal condition as well as teaching the patient methods for simplifying activities and protecting joints. The importance of keeping PT/OT appointments and following home-care instructions should be stressed to both the patient and the family. A well-balanced diet that controls weight is recommended (obesity further stresses joints). Both patient and family should be referred to local and national support and information groups. Desired outcomes include cooperation with prescribed medication and exercise regimens, ability to perform ADLs, slowed progression of debilitating effects, pain control, and proper use of assistive devices. For more information and support, patient and family should contact the Arthritis Foundation (404-872-7100) (www.arthritis.org).

See also: arthritis
Medical Dictionary, © 2009 Farlex and Partners

rheumatoid arthritis

A general disease affecting women more often than men and, in severe cases, causing progressive joint deformity, joint destruction and disability. The small joints of the fingers and hands are most seriously affected but the condition can spread to involve the wrists, elbows, shoulders and other joints. The disease is believed to be triggered by an infection that prompts the immune system to form damaging aggregates of ANTIGEN and ANTIBODY (IMMUNE COMPLEXES). The antibodies IgM, IgG and IgA (rheumatoid factors), and antibodies to COLLAGEN and cell nuclei, are present in the blood. Pro-inflammatory CYTOKINES, especially TUMOUR NECROSIS FACTOR are involved. Rheumatoid arthritis causes loss of appetite and weight, lethargy, muscle and tendon pain, nodules under the skin and often severe eye inflammation. There are many complications including ANAEMIA, PERICARDITIS, VASCULITIS and RAYNAUD'S PHENOMENON. Treatment is limited to control of inflammation and complications and the relief of pain by means of rest, splintage, physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory and painkilling drugs. Immunosuppressive drugs can be helpful and Penicillamine and gold are also widely used. See also STILL'S DISEASE (juvenile rheumatoid arthritis).
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005

arthritis, rheumatoid 

An autoimmune systemic inflammatory disease characterized by swelling of the joints causing pain and sometimes deformity. It is often accompanied by ocular inflammations, which include keratoconjunctivitis sicca, episcleritis, scleritis and uveitis, as well as corneal ulceration and scleral thinning (scleromalacia). See Reiter's disease; marginal furrow; keratoconjunctivitis sicca; keratolysis; peripheral ulcerative keratitis; Brown's superior oblique tendon sheath syndrome; Sjögren's syndrome.
Millodot: Dictionary of Optometry and Visual Science, 7th edition. © 2009 Butterworth-Heinemann

rheu·ma·toid ar·thri·tis

(rū'mă-toyd ahr-thrī'tis) [MIM*180300]
Generalized disease, more common in women, which primarily affects connective tissue.
Synonym(s): arthritis deformans.
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012

Patient discussion about rheumatoid arthritis

Q. Rheumatoid arthritis symptons?

A. pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers.You might have the disease for only a short time, or symptoms might come and go. The severe form can last a lifetime.
there's also deformity of the hands (the fingers "deviates") and it can affect many systems in the body- lungs, liver, heart and blood vessels. so there can be many other symptoms.

Q. What Is the Cause for Rheumatoid Arthritis? I know rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that develops in adults. What causes this disease?

A. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means the problem is that the body attacks its own cells, in this case, the joints. The cause for this autoimmunity is unknown, and there are factors that are known to worsen an attack.

Q. Rheumatoid arthritis Is there any alternatives for my dearest friend who is suffering from Rheumatoid arthritis without having all prescribed drugs? I am fell sick when i see him struggling with more pain. Please help me to save him from pain.

A. omega 3 fatty acids are known to help resolving inflammations and holding back joint damage!
here is more about the nutrition-arthritis connection:

More discussions about rheumatoid arthritis
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References in periodicals archive ?
Aletaha and a team of rheumatology experts used a database of more than 3,000 patients with early, inflammatory arthritis submitted by nine centers worldwide to identify a short list of key variables that seemed to define RA patients on the cusp of needing DMARD treatment.
A baseline C-reactive protein level may be useful in patients with suspected inflammatory arthritis. For suspected gout, serum uric acid measurements are indicated.
Inflammatory arthritis could be a relative contraindication, because patients with inflammatory arthritis in the study did not do well, he said.
LIKE rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitisis another form of inflammatory arthritis, but it begins by affecting the joints of the lower back not the hands.
Inflammatory arthritis occurs when the immune system, which can employ inflammation to fight infection and prevent disease, mistakenly attacks the joints with uncontrolled inflammation.
[USA], Apr 3 (ANI): A recent study has found links between inflammatory arthritis and its impact on intimacy and sexual function in both men and women.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved UCB's Cimzia (certolizumab pegol) injection intended for the treatment of adults with a certain type of inflammatory arthritis called non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis, with objective signs of inflammation, it was reported on Friday.
Public health agency The US Food and Drug Administration Thursday authorised Cimzia (certolizumab pegol) injection for treatment of adults with a certain type of inflammatory arthritis called non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpA).
Typically, people with osteoarthritis can struggle with this for about 30 minutes, while for inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), morning stiffness can make it difficult to move for at least an hour.
This inflammatory arthritis is triggered when a waste product called uric acid crystallizes within the joints, causing excruciating pain and swelling.

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