Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that can cause joint pain and damage throughout your body. The joint damage that RA causes usually happens on both sides of your body. So if a joint is affected in one of your arms or legs, the same joint in the other arm or leg will probably be affected, too. This is one way that doctors distinguish RA from other forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis (OA).  RA is a long-term or chronic disease marked by symptoms of inflammation and pain in the joints. These symptoms and signs occur during periods known as flares. Other times are known as periods of remission — this is when symptoms dissipate completely.

RA symptoms, which can occur throughout the body, include:

  • joint pain

  • joint swelling

  • joint stiffness

  • loss of joint function

Symptoms can vary from mild to severe. It’s important not to ignore your symptoms, even if they come and go.  Diagnosing RA can take time and may require multiple lab tests to confirm clinical examination findings. First, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. They will also perform a physical exam of your joints. This will include looking for swelling and redness and testing your reflexes and muscle strength. Your doctor will also touch the affected joints to check for warmth and tenderness. If they suspect RA, they’ll most likely refer you to a specialist called a rheumatologist.