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By Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, FAPA; This article originally published on Get Healthy Stay Healthy.

We often think of arthritis as general joint pain or loss of mobility that comes along as we get older. Arthritis is actually an umbrella term for more than 100 different diseases and can impact young people as well as old. On a recent episode of The Doctors, I spoke with Dr. Travis Stork about how you can tell the difference between two of the most common types – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. I’d like to speak with you more about rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis – or RA – is a chronic, systemic autoimmune disease that can be painful and disabling. An estimated 1.6 million people in the United States have RA—that’s almost one percent of the nation’s adult population. There are nearly three times as many women as men with the disease. RA causes a range of symptoms, the most prominent being stiffness and swelling in the joints – particularly those in the hands, feet and knees. The joint pain is often felt in the same joint on both sides of the body and eventually, joints may lose their range of motion and may become deformed. Over time, people with RA may see a decrease in the ability to perform their daily activities.

A growing body of research is focusing on the impact of obesity on people living with RA. Obesity in RA is associated with decreased physical ability and health as well as increased pain, and signs of inflammation. Researchers are finding that heavier people may actually have more severe forms of the disease, but they still don’t quite understand the connection between the two. Studies show that regular moderate exercise may help reduce joint pain and stiffness and improve psychological well-being.

Because RA is a chronic disease, those living with it may need ongoing treatment. Treatment can reduce signs and symptoms and improve physical function. If you’ve been diagnosed with RA, work closely with your healthcare team to develop the best treatment plan for you.

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