Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes inflammation, pain, and swelling of joints. Persistent inflammation over time can damage affected joints. The severity can vary from mild to severe. Treatments include disease-modifying medicines to suppress inflammation, which can prevent or delay the progression of the disease, and medication to ease pain. The earlier treatment is started, the less joint damage is likely to occur. Surgery is needed in some cases if a joint becomes badly damaged.
Arthritis means inflammation of joints. RA is a common form of arthritis. (There are various other causes of arthritis and RA is just one cause.) About 1 in 100 people develop RA at some stage in their lives. It can happen to anyone. It is not an hereditary disease. It can develop at any age, but most commonly starts between the ages of 40 and 60. It is about three times more common in women than in men.
A joint is where two bones meet. Joints allow movement and flexibility of various parts of the body. The movement of the bones is caused by muscles which pull on tendons that are attached to bone. Cartilage covers the end of bones. Between the cartilage of two bones that form a joint there is a small amount of thick fluid called synovial fluid. This lubricates the joint, which allows smooth movement between the bones.
The synovium is the tissue that surrounds a joint. Synovial fluid is made by cells of the synovium. The outer part of the synovium is called the capsule. This is tough, gives the joint stability, and stops the bones from moving out of joint. Surrounding ligaments and muscles also help to give support and stability to joints.