Diseases > Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) > What is it?
In this page
Subscribe to our Newsletter
What is RA?
Rheumatoid arthritis is also known as RA. It is one of the most common types of inflammatory arthritis. It is caused when the body’s immune system begins attacking its own joints. This causes the joints to feel stiff and sore, especially in the morning.
What causes RA?
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system begins to attack its own joints. The reason for this is not well understood. The attack causes inflammation of the joints. The word inflammation comes from the Latin word inflammare which means to light on fire. In people with RA, inflammation causes the joints to become warm, swollen, and painful. In other words, the joints can feel like they’re “on fire.”
Another way to look at it is that the immune system is “activated.” This also happens when you have the flu. Having an activated immune system can make you feel very tired.
Who gets RA?
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common types of inflammatory arthritis. It is estimated to affect 1% of the population. So, if you went to a hockey game with 10,000 people then you could expect about 100 people to have RA. So you can see that RA is really not that rare. You might know someone who has RA. Some famous people who have or have had RA are comedian Lucille Ball, actress Kathleen Turner, and former baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax.
People usually notice the first signs of RA between the ages of 25 and 50. Rheumatoid arthritis is about three times more common in women than men.
It’s a common misconception that most cases of RA are passed down through families. This is just not true. Most people who develop RA do not have a family member with the disease. However, genetics do appear to play a role in who gets RA.
Think of it like this. Rheumatoid arthritis is like a fire burning in your joints. To make a fire you need wood and something to light it with. Let’s think of the wood like it’s your genes. You need the right type of wood (nice and dry) to light a fire. Researchers have found that you need the right type of genes to light the fire of RA. But that’s not the end of the story. You also need something to light the fire with. We’re not entirely sure what lights the fire of RA. It might be the chemicals from cigarette smoke or a virus in the environment. Several triggers might be needed to light the fire. We just don’t know and it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.
How is RA Diagnosed?
Rheumatoid arthritis is best diagnosed by a rheumatologist. A rheumatologist is a specialist in arthritis and autoimmune diseases. The rheumatologist will take a complete history and perform a thorough physical examination. This is usually followed by blood tests and x-rays.
What tests are done to diagnose RA?
Special blood tests can be done to help diagnose RA. However, in some people these blood tests can be normal and yet the person might still have RA. A blood test alone cannot diagnose RA. Tests that can help make a diagnosis include:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC)
- Rheumatoid Factor (RF)
- Anti-Cyclic Citrullinated Peptide Antibody (anti-CCP)
- Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)
- C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
Read more – What is it going to do to me?