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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

A disease in which the immune system attacks the linings of the joints. This results in joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and destruction.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases)

About RA

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. In some people, it can also cause the joints to become damaged and deformed.

  • Although it can affect any joint in the body, RA is most commonly found in the hands, wrists, feet, and knees. Usually, if it is found in one hand, it will appear in the other as well.
  • Sometimes RA can cause problems with body parts other than your joints such as your heart, lungs, eyes, or mouth.
  • RA usually lasts many years or an entire lifetime. For some people, RA can last for only a few months to a few years with treatment, although this is rare.
  • The symptoms of RA (pain, swelling, stiffness) can get worse for some periods of time (called a "flareup") and then get better for some periods of time.

What causes RA?

The cause of RA is unknown, but researchers think the condition may be passed down in families. The pain and symptoms of RA happen when your immune system (the system of the body that helps defend you from germs) attacks the healthy lining of your joints. Doctors are not sure why the immune system in some people attacks their joints... Read more about Rheumatoid Arthritis

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Patient education shows short‐term benefits for adults with rheumatoid arthritis.

The purpose was to examine the effectiveness of patient education interventions on health status (pain, functional disability, psychological well‐being and disease activity) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Patient education had a small beneficial effect at first follow‐up for disability, joint counts, patient global assessment, psychological status, and depression. At final follow‐up (3‐14 months) no evidence of significant benefits was found.

Antimalarials for treating rheumatoid arthritis

Antimalarials have been used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for several decades. This review found four trials, with 300 patients receiving hydrochloroquine and 292 receiving placebo. A benefit was observed in the patients taking hydroxychloroquine compared to placebo. There was no difference between the two groups in terms of those who had to withdraw from trials due to side effects.

Sulfasalazine for treating rheumatoid arthritis

Sulfasalazine has become a common second line drug (DMARD) for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

See all (575)

Summaries for consumers

Patient education shows short‐term benefits for adults with rheumatoid arthritis.

The purpose was to examine the effectiveness of patient education interventions on health status (pain, functional disability, psychological well‐being and disease activity) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Patient education had a small beneficial effect at first follow‐up for disability, joint counts, patient global assessment, psychological status, and depression. At final follow‐up (3‐14 months) no evidence of significant benefits was found.

Antimalarials for treating rheumatoid arthritis

Antimalarials have been used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for several decades. This review found four trials, with 300 patients receiving hydrochloroquine and 292 receiving placebo. A benefit was observed in the patients taking hydroxychloroquine compared to placebo. There was no difference between the two groups in terms of those who had to withdraw from trials due to side effects.

Sulfasalazine for treating rheumatoid arthritis

Sulfasalazine has become a common second line drug (DMARD) for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

See all (112)

Terms to know

Autoimmune Disease
Disease that results when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues. Examples include multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Inflammation
Redness, swelling, pain, and/or a feeling of heat in an area of the body. This is a protective reaction to injury, disease, or irritation of the tissues.
Joints
In medicine, the place where two or more bones are connected. Examples include the shoulder, elbow, knee, and jaw.
Rheumatologist
Doctors who diagnose and treat diseases of the bones, joints, muscles, and tendons, including arthritis and collagen diseases.

More about Rheumatoid Arthritis

Photo of an adult

See Also: Osteoarthritis

Other terms to know: See all 4
Autoimmune Disease, Inflammation, Joints

Related articles:
How Joints Work

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