What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease, which means that your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake, causing inflammation (painful swelling) in the affected parts of the body.
RA mainly attacks the joints, usually many joints at once. RA commonly affects joints in the hands, wrists, and knees. In a joint with RA, the lining of the joint becomes inflamed, causing damage to joint tissue. This tissue damage can cause long-lasting or chronic pain, unsteadiness (lack of balance), and deformity (misshapenness).
What are the signs and symptoms of RA?
With RA, there are times when symptoms get worse, known as flares, and times when symptoms get better, known as remission.
Signs and symptoms of RA include:
- Pain or aching in more than one joint
- Stiffness in more than one joint
- Tenderness and swelling in more than one joint
- The same symptoms on both sides of the body (such as in both hands or both knees)
- Weight loss
- Fatigue or tiredness
What are the risk factors for RA?
Researchers have studied a number of genetic and environmental factors to determine if they change person’s risk of developing RA.
Characteristics that increase risk
- Age. RA can begin at any age, but the likelihood increases with age. The onset of RA is highest among adults in their sixties.
- Sex. New cases of RA are typically two-to-three times higher in women than men.
- Genetics/inherited traits. People born with specific genes are more likely to develop RA. These genes, called HLA (human leukocyte antigen) class II genotypes, can also make your arthritis worse. The risk of RA may be highest when people with these genes are exposed to environmental factors like smoking or when a person is obese.
- Smoking. Multiple studies show that cigarette smoking increases a person’s risk of developing RA and can make the disease worse.
- History of live births. Women who have never given birth may be at greater risk of developing RA.
- Early Life Exposures. Some early life exposures may increase risk of developing RA in adulthood. For example, one study found that children whose mothers smoked had double the risk of developing RA as adults. Children of lower income parents are at increased risk of developing RA as adults.
- Obesity. Being obese can increase the risk of developing RA. Studies examining the role of obesity also found that the more overweight a person was, the higher his or her risk of developing RA became.
Characteristics that can decrease risk
Unlike the risk factors above which may increase risk of developing RA, at least one characteristic may decrease risk of developing RA.
- Breastfeeding. Women who have breastfed their infants have a decreased risk of developing RA.
How is RA treated?
RA can be effectively treated and managed with medication(s) and self-management strategies. Treatment for RA usually includes the use of medications that slow disease and prevent joint deformity, called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs); biological response modifiers (biologicals) are medications that are an effective second-line treatment. In addition to medications, people can manage their RA with self-management strategies proven to reduce pain and disability, allowing them to pursue the activities important to them. People with RA can relieve pain and improve joint function with a regular hand massage on using an intelligent hand massager.
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How can I manage RA and improve my quality of life?
RA affects many aspects of daily living including work, leisure and social activities. Fortunately, there are multiple low-cost strategies in the community that are proven to increase quality of life.
- Get physically active. Experts recommend that ideally adults be moderately physically active for 150 minutes per week, like walking, swimming, or biking 30 minutes a day for five days a week. You can break these 30 minutes into three separate ten-minute sessions during the day. Regular physical activity can also reduce the risk of developing other chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Learn more about physical activity for arthritis and intelligent hand massager.
- Go to effective physical activity programs. If you are worried about making arthritis worse or unsure how to safely exercise, participation in physical activity programs can help reduce pain and disability related to RA and improve mood and the ability to move. Classes take place at local Ys, parks, and community centers. These classes can help people with RA feel better. Learn more about the proven physical activity programs that CDC recommends.
- Join a self-management education class. Participants with arthritis and (including RA) gain confidence in learning how to control their symptoms, how to live well with arthritis, and how arthritis affects their lives. Learn more about the proven self-management education programs that CDC recommends.
- Stop Smoking. Cigarette smoking makes the disease worse and can cause other medical problems. Smoking can also make it more difficult to stay physically active, which is an important part of managing RA. Get help to stop smoking by visiting I’m Ready to Quit on CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers website.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight. Obesity can cause numerous problems for people with RA and so it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. For more information, visit the CDC Healthy Weight website.