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Home Science Diseases & Conditions Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disabling disease that affects the joints with pain, swelling, and stiffness. It is an autoimmune condition, which means that your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake.1  An estimated 1.3 million people in the United States suffer from this disease.1,2

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is chronic (long-lasting) autoimmune and inflammatory disease that affects joints in the hands, wrists and knees. The inflammation in the joints causes tissue damage which can cause painful swelling and deformity. RA can also affect other tissues throughout the body and cause problems in organs such as the lungs, heart, and eyes.3

  • The exact cause is unknown. Scientists believe RA is an autoimmune disease, which happens when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake.3

    RA is 2 to 3 times more common in women than men. The risk for RA increases with age; however, it can occur at any age. Studies also show that genetics, smoking and obesity may increase your risk for developing RA.3

  • RA can happen in any joint, but it is more common in the hands, wrist and feet. Symptoms usually happen on both sides of the body. For example, if you experience RA symptoms in your right hand, you will likely have it in your left hands as well.4

    Signs and symptoms of RA may include:3

    • Pain or aching in more than one joint.
    • Stiffness in more than one joint.
    • Tenderness and swelling in more than one joint.
    • Weight loss.
    • Fever.
    • Fatigue, or tiredness.
    • Weakness.

    RA symptoms may worsen at times (known as flares) or get better (called remission).3 Flares may occur when exposed to a trigger, such as stress, too much activity, or suddenly stopping RA medications.4

  • There is no specific medical test to diagnose RA. Because signs and symptoms of RA may look like signs and symptoms of other inflammatory joint diseases, doctors will have to rule out other conditions. Doctors who specialize in RA (called rheumatologist) diagnose RA by evaluating your symptoms, reviewing your medical history, conducting a physical exam, and ordering tests.3

  • There is currently no cure for RA.1 Treatments (e.g., medicine, lifestyle changes, surgery) can help slow or stop joint damage and reduce pain and swelling.3

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a focus of our Inflammation & Immunology Therapeutic Area.

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2. Hunter TM, Boytsov NN, Zhang X, et al. Prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis in the United States adult population in healthcare claims databases, 2004–2014. Rheumatol Int 2017;37:1551–1557. DOI 10.1007/s00296-017-3726-1