Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease and its inflammation can affect organs and areas of the body other than the joints.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Inflammation of Organs
Since rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, its inflammation can affect organs and areas of the body other than the joints. Examples of other areas that may be affected include the following:
- Sjögren’s syndrome is the result of inflammation of the glands of the eyes and mouth and causes dryness of these areas.
- Rheumatoid inflammation of the lung lining (pleuritis) causes chest pain with deep breathing or coughing.
- Tissue inflammation surrounding the heart, called pericarditis, can cause chest pain that typically changes in intensity when lying down or leaning forward.
- Rheumatoid disease can reduce the number of red blood cells (anemia) and white blood cells.
- Decreased white cells can be associated with an enlarged spleen (Felty’s syndrome) and can increase the risk of infections.
- Firm lumps under the skin (rheumatoid nodules) can occur around the elbows and fingers where there is frequent pressure.
- A rare and serious complication is blood-vessel inflammation (vasculitis). Vasculitis can impair blood supply to tissues and lead to tissue death. This is most often initially visible as tiny black areas around the nail beds or as leg ulcers.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can include fatigue, lack of appetite, low-grade fever, muscle and joint aches, and stiffness.
What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
When the disease is active, symptoms can include fatigue, lack of appetite, low-grade fever, muscle and joint aches, and stiffness. Muscle and joint stiffness are usually most notable in the morning and after periods of inactivity. Arthritis is common during disease flares. Also during flares, joints frequently become red, swollen, painful, and tender. This occurs because the lining tissue of the joint (synovium) becomes inflamed, resulting in the production of excessive joint fluid (synovial fluid). The synovium also thickens with inflammation (synovitis).
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis come and go, depending on the degree of tissue inflammation.
Remission, Relapse, and Flares
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis come and go, depending on the degree of tissue inflammation. When body tissues are inflamed, the disease is active. When tissue inflammation subsides, the disease is inactive (in remission). Remissions can occur spontaneously or with treatment and can last weeks, months, or years. During remissions, symptoms of the disease disappear and patients generally feel well. When the disease becomes active again (relapse), symptoms return. The return of disease activity and symptoms is called a flare. The course of rheumatoid arthritis varies from patient to patient, and periods of flares and remissions are typical.
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is a very active area of worldwide research.
What causes rheumatoid arthritis?
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. Even though infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi have long been suspected, none has been proven as the cause. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is a very active area of worldwide research. Some scientists believe that the tendency to develop rheumatoid arthritis may be genetically inherited. It is suspected that certain infections or factors in the environment might trigger the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues in susceptible individuals, resulting in inflammation in various organs of the body including the joints. Environmental factors also seem to play some role in causing rheumatoid arthritis. Recently, scientists have reported that smoking tobacco increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
This illustration shows the differences between a normal, healthy joint, a joint affected by osteoarthritis, and one affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
What Is the Difference Between Normal, Healthy Joints and Arthritic Joints?
A joint is where two bones meet to allow movement of body parts. Arthritis means joint inflammation. The joint inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis causes swelling, pain, stiffness, and redness in the joints. The inflammation of rheumatoid disease can also occur in tissues around the joints, such as the tendons, ligaments, and muscles. In some patients with rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammation leads to the destruction of the cartilage, bone, and ligaments, causing deformity of the joints. Damage to the joints can occur early in the disease and progress as the individual ages.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is arthritis that causes joint inflammation and stiffness for more than six weeks in a child 16 years of age or younger.
What Is Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is arthritis that causes joint inflammation and stiffness for more than six weeks in a child 16 years of age or younger. It affects approximately 50,000 children in the United States. Inflammation causes redness, swelling, warmth, and soreness in the joints, although many children with JRA do not complain of joint pain. Any joint can be affected, and inflammation may limit the mobility of affected joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately 1.3 million people in the United States, with women developing the condition three times more often than men.
Who Is at Risk for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a common rheumatic disease, affecting approximately 1.3 million people in the United States, according to current census data. The disease is three times more common in women as in men. It afflicts people of all races equally. The disease can begin at any age, but it most often starts after age 40 and before 60. In some families, multiple members can be affected, suggesting a genetic basis for the disorder.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body is mistakenly attacked by its own immune system. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause inflammation of the tissue around the joints, as well as in other organs in the body. Because it can affect multiple organs of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a systemic illness and is sometimes called rheumatoid disease. While rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic illness, meaning it can last for years, patients may experience long periods without symptoms. Typically, however, rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive illness that has the potential to cause joint destruction and functional disability.
Third Trimester: Changes as the Due Date Approaches
As you near your due date, your cervix becomes thinner and softer (called effacing). This is a normal, natural process that helps the birth canal (vagina) to open during the birthing process. Your doctor will check your progress with a vaginal exam as you near your due date. Get excited — the final countdown has begun!
Third Trimester: Emotional and Physical Changes a Woman May Experience
Some new body changes you might notice in the third trimester include:
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of the ankles, fingers, and face. (If you notice any sudden or extreme swelling or if you gain a lot of weight really quickly, call your doctor right away. This could be a sign of preeclampsia.)
- Tender breasts, which may leak a watery pre-milk called colostrum
- Your belly button may stick out
- Trouble sleeping
- The baby “dropping”, or moving lower in your abdomen
- Contractions, which can be a sign of real or false labor
Third Trimester: Changes a Woman May Experience
You’re in the home stretch! Some of the same discomforts you had in your second trimester will continue. Plus, many women find breathing difficult and notice they have to go to the bathroom even more often. This is because the baby is getting bigger and it is putting more pressure on your organs. Don’t worry, your baby is fine and these problems will lessen once you give birth.
Second Trimester: The Baby at 16 Weeks
As your body changes to make room for your growing baby, you may have:
- Body aches, such as back, abdomen, groin, or thigh pain
- Stretch marks on your abdomen, breasts, thighs, or buttocks
- Darkening of the skin around your nipples
- A line on the skin running from belly button to pubic hairline
- Patches of darker skin, usually over the cheeks, forehead, nose, or upper lip. Patches often match on both sides of the face. This is sometimes called the mask of pregnancy.
- Numb or tingling hands, called carpal tunnel syndrome
- Itching on the abdomen, palms, and soles of the feet. (Call your doctor if you have nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice or fatigue combined with itching. These can be signs of a serious liver problem.)
- Swelling of the ankles, fingers, and face.(If you notice any sudden or extreme swelling or if you gain a lot of weight really quickly, call your doctor right away. This could be a sign of preeclampsia.)