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Overton Brooks VA Medical Center


Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis medical facts, information, and treatments.
A photographic image showing how a joint affected by rheumatoid arthritis Rheumatoid Arthritis is caused by a faulty immune system. Instead of protecting healthy joints and bones, it hurts them. This results in joint deformities, pain and stiffness. Nearly 2 million people have Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is more common in women.

There is no known specific cause of Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Rheumatoid Arthritis can occur at any age. It most commonly starts with the hands and feet. It is usual for the left and right sides of the body to be affected equally.

Rheumatoid Arthritis can be difficult to diagnose. Its symptoms can come and go and are similar to symptoms of other bone and joint problems.

Those with Rheumatoid Arthritis can experience pain and swelling in their joints. It is usual to feel sick, tired and even feverish. Joint stiffness after rest is common.
There is no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis, but there are drugs available to treat the disease. Self management can decrease pain, improve function and overall quality of life.

Medications are used in the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis for:

  • Managing the pain.
  • Reducing the inflammation.
  • Slowing the disease to limit additional damage to joints Self-management and physical activity are also part of the treatment plan.

Self-management refers the skills and confidence needed to manage the disease day to day. Physical activity can decrease the joint pain and stiffness. It also helps to increase flexibility.

  • Strong muscles will help support and protect your joints. Increasing muscle strength and endurance also helps with weight management and can help you to feel better.
  • Aerobic activities will help to improve cardiovascular fitness. They also help with weight management and can help you to feel better.
  • Stretching exercises help with normal joint movement. They also help with flexibility and can help to relieve stiffness.

Remember - it is important to balance rest & relaxation with exercise. A healthy weight is important in the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis.

  • A well balanced diet helps you to manage your weight and stay healthy.
  • Extra pounds put extra pressure on some joints causing increased pain.

The use of splints or braces helps to support weakened joints. They also can allow joints to rest. Too much stress can worsen pain. And that can make it harder to deal with challenges of arthritis. Stress is a normal part of life and dealing with stress can be a daily challenge. Learning to manage stress in a positive way helps with pain, makes you feel healthier and helps you to manage the disease more effectively. Talk with your health care team if you have questions and to learn more about managing Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Return to the main Arthritis page