Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that affects the joints. It causes pain, swelling and stiffness. If one knee or hand has rheumatoid arthritis, usually the other knee or hand is also affected. This disease often occurs in more than one joint and can affect any joint. People with this disease may feel sick and tired, and sometimes get fevers.

Some people have the disease for only a few months, or one or two years. Then disappears without causing damage. Other people have times when symptoms get worse (flares) and times when they get better (remissions). In severe cases, the disease can last for many years or a lifetime. This form of the disease can cause serious joint damage.

The disease usually begins gradually with:

• Fatigue
• Loss of appetite
• Morning stiffness (lasting more than an hour)
• Widespread muscle aches
• Weakness

Finally, joint pain appears. When the joint is not in use for some time, it can become warm, tender, and stiff. When the lining of the joints becomes inflamed, produces more fluid and the joint swells. Joint pain is often felt on both sides of the body and can affect the wrists, knees, elbows, shoulders, hips, fingers and toes, ankles and neck.

How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?

The family doctor or rheumatologist can diagnose this disease. The rheumatologist is a physician who cares for people with joint problems, bone and muscles. Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose because:

• There is no specific test for the disease
• The symptoms can be similar to those of other joint diseases
• It may take some time to be present the whole picture with all the symptoms.

To diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, doctors take into account medical history, physical examination, radiographs and laboratory tests.

Damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis, in addition to affecting the joints, can cause damage to other parts of the body as the heart, muscles, lungs, eyes and nerves. In some cases it may be presented in a sudden but is more likely to develop gradually affecting more and more joints. In most cases starting to appear in the small joints of the fingers or toes, wrists, hands, elbows and ankles. In some rheumatoid arthritis has only mild symptoms that last a short time. However, in most cases the disease follows a progressive course and lasts a lifetime. Rheumatoid arthritis is considered the most serious and disabling of the various forms of arthritis.

In the elderly rheumatoid arthritis can cause deformities of the hands and feet. This occurs when arthritis causes weakening of muscles, tendons shrink and an abnormal enlargement of the anterior part of the bones. There are cases where the bone is eroded and the joint is dislocated being frozen in one position.
What is the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis?

Physicians have several options for the treatment of this disease.
The goals of treatment are:

• Eliminate pain
• Reduce swelling
• Slow down or stop joint damage
• Helping people feel better
• Help people stay active.

Treatment can include patient education, self-management programs and support groups that help people learn about:

• Treatments
• The exercises and relaxation methods
• Talking to the doctor
• Troubleshooting.