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How does Rheumatoid arthritis affect the joints?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are disorders in which the immune system becomes confused and attacks the body. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the lining of the joints. This causes deterioration of the cartilage, bone and ligaments of the joints, causing pain and damage in the joints. Sometimes the immune system may even attack and damage other parts of the body, including blood vessels and parts of the lungs or heart.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is considered an autoimmune disease. Such diseases are characterized by an immune-system attack on the body's healthy tissues. In RA, white blood cells travel to the synovium (the membranes that surround joints) and cause inflammation, or synovitis. The ensuing warmth, redness, swelling and pain are typical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, which usually affects the wrists, fingers, knees, feet and ankles.

The continuous inflammation associated with RA gradually destroys cartilage, which coats the end of the bones. This narrows the joint space and eventually damages bone. The surrounding muscles, ligaments and tendons that support and stabilize the joint also become weak and unable to work normally.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of joints and surrounding cartilage and bone, resulting in pain, redness, heat, swelling and stiffness. It most often affects the hands, including wrist and finger joints, but RA can attack just about any joint in the body: feet, knees, elbows, hips, shoulders and others.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.