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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 affects cells that line and normally lubricate the joints (synovium). This systemic condition can affect multiple joints all over your body. Your synovium becomes inflamed and erodes, or “eats away” cartilage and bone, stretching soft tissues, causing the joints to be unstable and your fingers or hands to appear deformed. Tendons also can rupture, or tear, with minimal trauma. Rheumatoid arthritis of the hand is most common in the wrist and finger knuckles (metacarpophalangeal and proximal interphalangeal joints).
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.