Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic joint disease characterized by pain, stiffness, swelling and limited motion of several joints. The cause of RA is unknown. Similarly to many autoimmune disorders there is a genetic predisposition that favors the appearance of this disease.
There are several genes closely related to RA such as HLA DRB1, PTPN22, STAT4 or 6-q23. There are also some environmental factors that may facilitate RA initiation. Tobacco use is the most clearly implicated.
Once RA has appeared it perpetuates because certain cells of the immune system do not work properly and start attacking healthy tissues since they do not recognize them as their own. RA mainly attacks joints but, sometimes, other healthy tissues such as skin, lungs, heart, vessels or eyes can also be affected.
The main symptom of RA is one or multiple joint swelling without previous trauma. Other common symptoms may be fatigue, loss of appetite, dry eyes and/or mouth and low fever. Expertise is vital to make an early diagnosis of RA and to rule out diseases that mimic RA.
The only expert in RA is the rheumatologist. Your rheumatologist should design a customized treatment plan since not all RA patients are treated in the same way. A great number of studies show that people who receive early treatment for RA feel better sooner, therefore, is crucial a prompt evaluation by a rheumatologist. To date, there is no cure for RA.
However, current treatments give most patients good or excellent relief of symptoms and most of the times let them keep functioning at normal levels with no signs of active disease. We consider this clinical situation as clinical remission, that is, “arthritis is asleep”.