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Rheumatoid Arthritis FAQs

Written By: Kent Hospital on September 20, 2021

We compiled the top 5 FAQs that are asked of our Rheumatology specialists within the Care New England Medical Group. 

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can cause damage to various body systems. The body systems that the disease can do damage include, but are not limited to, joints, blood vessels, skin, eyes, lungs, and even your heart. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which means it is the result of your immune system mistakenly attacking your body's tissues. This causes damage to the lining of your joints and creates a painful swelling that can also cause joint deformity, bone erosion, and damage to other systems in your body. Medications and treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis are improving every day, but there is still a risk of severe cases leading to physical disabilities.

Is rheumatoid arthritis hereditary?

Rheumatoid arthritis is somewhat hereditary. Not all the factors of rheumatoid arthritis are understood, but the disease does tend to cluster in families and is at least partially driven by genetics. Like most autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis has a genetic basis, which means that people with certain genetic markers have a higher chance of getting the disease.

What are the main causes of rheumatoid arthritis?

The main causes of rheumatoid arthritis are unknown to many doctors, though it is most likely to be caused by a genetic component. While there's no definite trigger for rheumatoid arthritis, there are a couple of things that may increase the risk of you getting the disease. Those risk factors are listed below:

  • Your Sex: Women are at a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis than men.
  • Your Age: Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, but it is most common for the disease to begin when you are in your middle ages.
  • Family History: As mentioned above, the disease tends to cluster in families and is at least partially driven by genetics.
  • Smoking: Like a lot of diseases, you are at a higher risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis if you are a smoker.
  • Excess Weight: People who are overweight are at a slightly higher risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis.

What are common rheumatoid arthritis symptoms?

The most common signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are the following:

  • Tender or swollen joints
  • Fatigue
  • Fever or a loss of appetite
  • Joint stiffness, which tends to be worse either in the morning or after long bouts of inactivity

When rheumatoid arthritis first starts to affect your body, it will often be felt in your smaller joints, such as the joints that attach your fingers to your hands or the ones that attach your toes to your feet. As time goes on, the disease will spread and it will be able to be felt in your wrists, knees, elbows, ankles, hips, and shoulders. Oftentimes, it will affect the same joints on both sides of your body. The disease alternates between periods of activity and remission that affect the swelling and pain you feel at any given time. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms vary in severity, and 40% of those who have it can feel it in places that do not involve the joints. As time goes on, rheumatoid arthritis may cause joints to deform and shift out of place. 

How is rheumatoid arthritis treated?

There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, remission of symptoms is more likely when treatment begins early with medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs or DMARDs. Your doctor may also refer you to a physical or occupational therapist that can teach you exercises to keep your joints flexible. If medication and therapy are unable to slow your joint damage, then your doctor may even consider surgery as an option to repair any damaged joints. Surgeries for rheumatoid arthritis are designed to help improve the function of your joint and reduce some of the pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.


To learn more about diagnosing, managing, and treating rheumatoid arthritis contact us to schedule an appointment. 


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