About Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune, inflammatory condition that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. If left untreated RA can cause irreversible joint damage. It is one of many different types of arthritis, and fortunately one for which treatment is available. RA is considered an autoimmune disease; this occurs when the body’s infection-fighting system, called the immune system, inappropriately “attacks” and damages the joints. RA tends to begin slowly with minor symptoms that come and go, usually on both sides of the body, and progress over a period of weeks.
The symptoms of early rheumatoid arthritis can overlap with those of several other diseases such as osteoarthritis, gout, fibromyalgia and autoimmune conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) as well as joint inflammation due to infections. This overlap of symptoms is one of the contributors to delayed primary care referrals of RA patients to rheumatologists, who can make the diagnosis.
The earlier you treat RA the better the outcomes. The goal of RA treatment is remission, a state where disease activity is gone or very low. Over the years, an overwhelming amount of clinical data has emerged adding urgency to early RA diagnosis and treatment which can stop crippling joint damage before it starts, or in its very early stages. Today, rheumatologists are treating as early as possible and have shortened the timeframe for treatment response before they move to more aggressive approaches to get patients into disease remission.