A Quick Primer On Rheumatoid Arthritis

According to recent census data, about 1.3 million American are currently suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Although RA occurs in all ethnic groups and races, it is particularly prevalent among people aged between 35 and 50 years. Additionally, women are three times more likely to develop the disease than men. It is worth noting that arthritis and related conditions cost the US economy about $130 billion annually in form of medical care and indirect costs, such as lost wages and productivity. Here is a quick primer on rheumatoid arthritis.

An Overview

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune type of arthritis, which means that it typically causes the immune system to attack healthy cells in the body. Moreover, RA is systemic disease that can cause problems throughout the body. Specifically, the disease can attack many organs and tissues in the body including the skin, blood, heart, lungs and eyes, as well as musculoskeletal structure.

However, the disease primarily targets the flexible synovial members of the small joints, including the wrists, elbows, feet, knees and hands. It is important to note that, unlike other types of arthritis, RA typically attacks both sides of the body, such as both knees, both wrists, or both hands.


While the exact cause of RA is unknown, doctors generally classify it as an autoimmune disorder. In particular, RA causes the immune system to attack the synovium, the joint tissue that produces synovial fluid, which lubricates joints as well as nourishes bones and cartilage. Because of this, RA interferes with the production of synovial fluid. Of course, the lack of lubrication eventually destroys the cartilage and connective tissues within joints, thereby leaving joints unsupported and vulnerable.


One of the classic symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is joint stiffness in the morning. The stiffness may last anywhere from a few hours to the whole day, but it generally improves with physical activity. Some of the other symptoms associated with RA, according to the CDC, include pain in multiple joints, swelling and tenderness in multiple joints, fatigue, weakness, fever and weight loss.

Risk Factors

Researchers say that certain factors can make a person more susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis. Some of these factors include:

Genetic/inherited traits — People with HLA human leukocyte antigen) class II genotypes are at a greater risk of developing RA compared to people without these genes. Additionally, HLA could make RA worse. Of course, the risk becomes even higher when individuals with HLA genes are exposed to other risk factors.

Smoking — Various scientific studies have linked RA to smoking. For instance, a review published in the April 2016 edition of the Arthritis & Rheumatology journal found that smokers with the HLA genes are about 21 times more likely to develop RA compared to non-smokers with the same genes. Moreover, a 2010 study appearing in the Arthritis & Rheumatology journal found that smokers are generally less responsive to certain RA medications including TNF inhibitors and methotrexate.

Some of the other risk factors for RA include environmental factors, sex, obesity, age and early life exposures.

Treatment Options

The management and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis involves the use of medications as well as self-management strategies. The former entails the use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). The latter, on the other hand, involves strategies such as weight management and engaging in physical activities.


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that mainly affects the small joints in the body. However, it can also attack many other organs and tissues including the blood, heart, lungs, skin and ears. To treat the disease, doctors use disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and self-management strategies.