What is Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects many joints in the body, including the hands and feet. Normally, the immune system keeps you healthy and protects from bacteria and viruses. Autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis occur when then body’s immune system mistakes its own tissues for foreign invaders. The immune system attacks healthy tissue, mainly synovial tissue within the joints, and this causes painful inflammation that is sometimes severe and can cause permanent disability. In severe cases, it can affect internal organs such as the eyes, lungs and heart. Compared to osteoarthritis, which causes wear-and-tear damage, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of the joints, and the painful swelling can sometimes lead to bone erosion and joint deformity. The condition becomes progressively worse over time if not effectively treated. Although there is no cure, medications can help slow or stop the progression of the disease. Medications can also help relieve the pain and swelling.
How common is Rheumatoid Arthritis
RA is common and it currently affects 1.3 million Americans. It affects 1 out of every 100 people. Prevalence increases with age, affecting 5% of women over 55. The average age of diagnosis is 58, and men are unlikely to be diagnosed under age 42. However, anyone can develop RA. In children and young adults — usually between the ages of 16 and 40 — it's called young-onset rheumatoid arthritis (YORA). Certain populations are more at risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis. Women are 2.5 times more likely to get rheumatoid arthritis than men. Additional risk factors may include genetics, smoking, and obesity.
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What are the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Most people begin experiencing their first symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis between age 30 and 60 years old in women, and at an older age in men. In early stages of rheumatoid arthritis, small joints like the fingers and toes are warm stiff, or swollen. Symptoms may come and go. Periods of increased disease activity, called flares, alternate with periods called remission where the swelling and pain fades or goes away. Rheumatoid arthritis flare ups can last a few days or a couple of weeks before they disappear again. Eventually, rheumatoid arthritis will affect larger joints like the hips, shoulders or knees and the period in between flare ups can shorten.
Some other symptoms include:
- Joint stiffness that is worse in the mornings and after inactivity
- Fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite
- About 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis have symptoms that affect areas of the body other than the joints, including:
- Salivary glands
- Nerve tissue
How is it diagnosed
Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose during the early stages because its symptoms mimic those of many other diseases. There is no one blood test or physical finding to confirm the diagnosis. Health care providers use an array of testing strategies to determine if a person meets criteria for having RA, including ruling out other possible causes. Doctors may perform a physical exam to check for joint swelling, redness and warmth. They may also want to check for reflexes and muscle strength. Additionally, doctors may do blood tests to look for an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or C - reactive protein (CRP) level, as people with rheumatoid arthritis tend to have elevated levels and these tests can indicate inflammation in the body. Doctors may do imaging such as X-rays to track the progression of rheumatoid arthritis in the joints over time. Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, clinical studies have shown that remission of symptoms is more likely when treatment begins early with certain medications.
The following specialty medications are available at Accredo, a specialty pharmacy for Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Life-saving specialty medication can be expensive. Learn how the Accredo teams help individuals find ways to afford the medication they need to survive in this video.
There are many organizations that support research and advocacy for Rheumatoid Arthritis. See below for a few of those organizations.
Meet the Team
Accredo’s Rheumatoid Arthritis team is dedicated to serving you, and we understand the complexity of your condition. Our specialty-trained clinicians are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to answer any questions.
Why We Do It
Accredo supports patients with chronic and complex conditions and helps them live their best life. Watch our video to learn why we do what we do for our patients.