Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

  • RA is a systemic debilitating autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system inappropriately attacks joint tissue, causing painful chronic inflammation and irreversible destruction of cartilage, tendons and bones, that often results in chronic pain, loss of function and disability, and can also lead to cardiovascular and pulmonary complications.1,2
  • Additionally, since RA is a systemic disease, it can have effects on other tissues and organs such as the lungs, eyes and bone marrow.2

What Are the Symptoms of RA?

  • Common RA symptoms include inflammation of the joints, swelling, fatigue, stiffness and pain.1,3
  • Patients may also experience loss of appetite, low-grade fever, anemia and/or lumps (nodules) under the skin.1,3

What Causes RA?

  • RA is considered an autoimmune disease that develops because certain immune system cells malfunction and attack the joints.3 Though the exact cause of RA is unknown, new advances in research are helping to uncover the immune and genetic factors that play an important role in triggering and perpetuating inflammation in the joints.1,3
  • While RA has traditionally been considered a T-cell-mediated disease, new research suggests that other immune cells called B-cells may play multiple roles in the initiation and progression of RA.4

What Is the Prevalence and Impact of RA?

  • RA affects more than two million Americans and hinders the daily activities of sufferers.1,3
  • RA usually begins between 25 and 55 years of age, and the condition is 2.5 times more common in women.1,3
  • Recent research shows that people with RA, especially those whose disease is uncontrolled, may have increased risk for heart disease and stroke.3
  • Average life expectancy may be reduced by 3-7 years for the average individual with RA and by 10-15 years for those with severe forms of the disease.5
  • People with RA are two times more likely to die than those of the same age without RA in the general population.1,6

How Is RA Diagnosed?

  • RA can be difficult to diagnose because patients typically experience a gradual onset of symptoms, and no single medical test can detect the disease.3
  • Diagnosis is based on symptoms, medical history, physical exam, X-rays and lab tests, including a test for rheumatoid factor (RF), an antibody found in the blood of approximately 80 percent of adults with RA.3 The presence of RF is not an absolute confirmation of RA; it is also found in people with other conditions.2

How Is RA Treated?

  • There is no cure for RA. Treatments focus on relieving pain and reducing inflammation, improving overall function and well-being, and slowing joint damage. Treatment may include a combination of drugs, exercise, rest, joint protection and physical and occupational therapy.1
  • There is a need for multiple treatment options because not all patients respond to all therapies. An estimated 30-40 percent of patients do not adequately respond to some anti-TNF therapies.