RA, Rheumatoid Arthritis, is the most common form of autoimmune arthritis, affecting more than 1.3 million Americans. Of these, about 75 percent are women. In fact, 1 to 3 percent of women may get rheumatoid arthritis in their lifetime. The disease most often begins between the fourth and sixth decades of life. However, RA can start at any age.
RA is a chronic (long-term) disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and limited motion and function of many joints. While RA can affect any joint, the small joints in the hands and feet tend to be affected most often. Inflammation sometimes can affect organs as well, for instance, the eyes or lungs.
The stiffness seen in active RA is often worse in the morning. It may last one to two hours (or even the whole day). Stiffness for a long time in the morning is a clue that you may have RA, since few other arthritic diseases behave this way.
Other signs and symptoms that can occur in RA include:
- Loss of energy
- Low fevers
- Loss of appetite
- Dry eyes and mouth from a related health problem, Sjogren’s syndrome
- Firm lumps, called rheumatoid nodules, which grow beneath the skin in places such as the elbow and hands