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Rheumatoid Arthritis 

An autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your body's own tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can cause pain within the joints. It can also cause problems in other parts of the body, such as the eyes, skin, lungs, heart and blood vessels. Whereas osteoarthritis involves wear-and-tear damage, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of the joints and causes painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.  

Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis 

A normal, healthy immune system helps protect the body from infection and disease. With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system mistakes the body’s cells for foreign invaders and releases inflammatory chemicals that attack healthy tissue in the joints.  

While doctors aren’t sure why some people develop rheumatoid arthritis, studies suggest that it may have to do with genetics. There are also certain factors that may increase a person’s risk of rheumatoid arthritis, including: 

  • Sex, as women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Advanced age 
  • Family history of rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Smoking 
  • Excess weight 

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis 

Rheumatoid arthritis signs and symptoms can vary in severity and may even come and go. The most common symptoms include: 

  • Tender, warm swollen joints 
  • Joint stiffness that is often worse in the morning or after inactivity 
  • Fatigue, fever and loss of appetite 

In addition to these localized symptoms, about 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis also experience signs and symptoms in other areas or parts of the body, including: 

  • Skin 
  • Eyes 
  • Lungs 
  • Heart 
  • Kidneys 
  • Salivary glands 
  • Nerve tissue 
  • Bone marrow 
  • Blood vessels 

Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis 

A doctor with specialized training in treating arthritis (called a rheumatologist) is the best person to make a correct diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. These specialists can be found at Tampa General Hospital’s Orthopedic Institute, and can diagnose rheumatoid arthritis using: 

  • Medical history 
  • A physical examination
  • Blood tests 
  • Imaging tests such as X-rays, ultrasounds and MRIs 

Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis 

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but certain treatment options can be used to ease pain and relieve other symptoms. These options include: 

  • Certain medications 
  • Physical or occupational therapy 
  • Surgery