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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common inflammatory disease of the joints. It is characterised by pain and swelling of both the small and large joints (mainly in the fingers, wrists and feet) accompanied by stiffness in the mornings and symptoms such as fatigue and weakness. The symptoms are usually worse first thing in the morning and there are sometimes other non-joint-related symptoms, such as dry mucous membranes, breathing difficulties, or subcutaneous nodules, among other things. There may be periods when the symptoms get worse; these are known as flare-ups. Flare-ups may be difficult to predict, but with treatment it is possible to reduce the number of these and minimise or prevent long-term joint damage.
Mechanism of Rheumatoid Arthritis
In rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammation is located in the synovial membrane of the joints (synovitis). This synovitis is persistent and can damage the joint and cause joint deformities. There is a growing understanding of the mechanisms involved in synovitis, which involve various cells of the immune system and their proteins (cytokines).
How many people does it affect?
It is estimated that about 1% of the world's adult population may have rheumatoid arthritis. It is more frequent among women (for each three women affected there is only one man), and it is most common between the ages of 30 and 50, although it can appear at any time of life. It is important to differentiate between rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which is a form of inflammatory arthritis that appears in childhood and adolescence and can sometimes persist into adulthood.