Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an inflammatory arthritis and an autoimmune disease. For reasons unbeknownst to us, in rheumatoid arthritis, our immune system – which is designed to protect our health by attacking foreign cells such as viruses and bacteria – instead attacks our healthy cells and tissue, specifically the thin membrane that lines the joints called synovium. This results in a build up of fluid in the joints, causing pain and inflammation that occurs throughout the body.
Some people have flares – bouts of intense pain and others have long periods of remission – no disease activity or symptoms at all. Symptoms may include joint warmth, decreased range of motion, inflammation, swelling, and pain in the areas around the affected joints. The condition is symmetrical, which means that if one joint is affected on one side of the body, the corresponding joint is affected on the other side. It is a chronic disease, which means it cannot be cured. Treatment goals are aimed at decreasing inflammation, relieving pain, and improving quality of life.