Rheumatoid arthritis: Get informed

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that occurs when an immune dysregulation affects the synovial membranes causing inflammation of the affected joints. The causes of this disease are not well known.



It is a joint disease that is accompanied by inflammation of the synovium, the membrane that encloses the joint cavity. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system begins to attack certain body structures. Rheumatoid arthritis causes excessive secretion of synovial fluid that will collect in the joint cavity and cause the swelling thereof. The joints mainly affected are the peripheral joints: hands, feet shoulders, elbows, wrists and knees.
The affected joints cause intense pain, stiffness and swelling. Simple everyday actions, such as opening a door or writing, can become restrictive and painful challenges.


The main difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, primary rheumatic disease, lies in the cause behind the joint symptoms. The inflammation in osteoarthritis is mainly due to mechanical wear. Conversely, it is the inflammation that will cause wear and tear on the joint in rheumatoid arthritis.
The affected joints are also different. Osteoarthritis most commonly affects weight-bearing joints (knees, hips, etc.), whereas rheumatoid arthritis affects particularly the joints that attach your fingers to your hands and your toes to your feet and it may have repercussions on structures other than the joints.
In addition, osteoarthritis is generally seen in the elderly, while RA most often affects people between 40 and 60 years or young adults in rare cases.

Mayo Clinic

Last updated: 8/9/17

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