RA diagnosis and overview

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Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is it?

Rheumatoid Arthritis affects one to two percent of the population. It appears to hit women the hardest, with an estimated 22.8 million female sufferers in the United States alone. Although it normally shows up between ages 20 and 40, rheumatoid arthritis can strike anytime.

This type of arthritis is a systemic autoimmune disease potentially affecting the entire body and involving many different joints. When the body’s immune system is not functioning correctly, healthy joint tissue comes under attack. Joint damage and inflammation of the joint linings cause pain, stiffness and swelling.

Symptoms

Early in the disease, people suffer from inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Symptoms often begin in the hands or feet, but can also impact elbows, shoulders, neck, knees and hips. Accompanying this can also be fever, poor appetite, fatigue and anemia and rheumatoid lumps, which form under the skin.

Causes

A specific cause has yet to be pinpointed, although researchers have identified a genetic marker that is probably influential in the start of the disease. The earlier a diagnosis is made the better, because arthritis can often be controlled with swift drug intervention.

In 1999, a study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found that smoking cigarettes or cigars raises the risk for rheumatoid arthritis by about 50 percent.

Another recent study io Agust 2000, also found an assoicated risk from people who drink large amounts of coffee (see relaetd article.)

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