Skip to main content

Understanding rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis can't be cured, but it can and should be treated.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) probably isn't the kind of arthritis you're used to hearing about.

RA doesn't result from wear and tear on particular joints. It happens when a person's immune system attacks the cells in his or her own joints, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). It also damages cartilage and bones.

Symptoms, according to the Arthritis Foundation, include swollen or tender joints, morning stiffness, fatigue, chest pain, swollen eyes, and skin nodules. The disease tends to work symmetrically, so that if your right hand is affected, your left hand is too.

RA can't be cured, but it can be controlled and treated. Without treatment RA can destroy joints and deform bones and may lead to early death.

Because RA can begin to damage joints in the first year or two that a person has the disease, treating it promptly is essential.

According to NIAMS and the Arthritis Foundation, treatment may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Painkillers.
  • Medicines that may help slow or stop the immune system from damaging the joints.
  • Exercise.
  • Rest.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Joint replacement as necessary.

reviewed 8/20/2019

Related stories