ID: 218
Category: Inflammation
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createdon: 17 Mar 2023
updatedon: 17 Apr 2023

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Author: Khoa Tran
Published Mar 17, 2023
Updated Apr 17, 2023

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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Etymology and Pronunciation

Rheumatoid (roo-muh-toid)
rheuma - Greek for "a swelling" or "a stream"

Arthritis (ar-thry-tis)
arthro- - Greek for "joint"
-itis - Greek for "inflammation"

History of Rheumatoid Arthritis

In 1800, French physician Augustin Jacob Landré-Beauvais described a disease that he called "rheumatisme articulaire" that caused joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. In 1859, British physician Alfred Baring Garrod described a similar disease, which he called "rheumatoid arthritis".

Before the discovery of RA, arthritis was a broad term used to describe any condition that caused joint inflammation and pain. However, Landré-Beauvais recognized that the symptoms of RA were different from those of other types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear on the joints.

In 1940, the British rheumatologist Sir Arthur Hill Griffith proposed that RA was an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attacks the body's own tissues. This theory was supported by the discovery of rheumatoid factor, an antibody that is present in the blood of many people with RA.

In the 1950s and 1960s, researchers further elucidated the immune mechanisms of RA. In 1957, the American rheumatologist Edward L. Franklin proposed that RA was caused by a type III hypersensitivity reaction, in which immune complexes (combinations of antibodies and antigens) accumulate in the joints and cause inflammation. This theory was supported by the discovery of deposits of immune complexes in the synovial fluid of RA patients.

In the 1970s and 1980s, advances in imaging technology, such as X-rays and MRI, allowed researchers to better visualize the joint damage caused by RA. This led to the development of new treatments, including disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic therapies that target specific immune pathways involved in RA.

Over time, researchers have discovered that RA is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body's immune system attacks its own tissues, including the synovium, the membrane that lines the joints. This results in inflammation, pain, and damage to the joints.

Modern Understanding of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the joints and other organs in the body. It is a progressive disease that can cause severe joint damage and deformity, making it a debilitating condition that significantly impacts a person's quality of life. In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis.

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can vary in severity, and may come and go over time. Some of the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

1. Joint pain and stiffness: Joint pain and stiffness are often the first signs of RA. This pain and stiffness may be worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity, and may affect multiple joints on both sides of the body.
2. Joint swelling: RA can cause swelling and tenderness in the affected joints. This can make it difficult to move the joint or perform everyday activities.
3. Fatigue: Many people with RA experience fatigue, which can be a result of the inflammation and pain associated with the condition.
4. Fever: In some cases, RA can cause a low-grade fever.
5. Loss of appetite: Some people with RA experience a loss of appetite or weight loss.
6. Joint deformity: Over time, RA can cause joint deformities, particularly in the hands and feet.
7. Nodules: Some people with RA develop small, firm bumps under the skin, called nodules. These can occur on the elbows, fingers, or other areas of the body.
8. Eye dryness and pain: RA can cause dryness and pain in the eyes, particularly if it affects the tear ducts.


Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be challenging because there is no single test that can definitively diagnose the condition. Instead, healthcare providers use a combination of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests to diagnose RA and rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Medical History:
A healthcare provider will typically start by asking about symptoms and medical history. They will ask about any joint pain, stiffness, or swelling that you are experiencing, as well as other symptoms like fatigue, fever, or weight loss. They may also ask about any family history of RA or other autoimmune conditions.

Physical Examination:
During a physical examination, a healthcare provider will examine the affected joints for signs of inflammation, such as swelling, tenderness, or warmth. They will also assess range of motion and check for any joint deformities. Additionally, they may examine other parts of the body for signs of RA, such as nodules or dryness in the eyes.

Laboratory Tests:
	1. Rheumatoid factor (RF) test: This blood test measures the level of RF, an antibody that is often present in people with RA. However, not all people with RA have high levels of RF, and some people without RA may have high levels of RF.
	2. Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) test: This blood test measures the level of anti-CCP antibodies, which are also often present in people with RA. Like the RF test, not all people with RA have high levels of anti-CCP antibodies.
	3. Complete blood count (CBC): This blood test measures the number of red and white blood cells in the blood. In people with RA, the CBC may show a higher number of white blood cells, which can indicate inflammation.
	4. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test: This blood test measures how quickly red blood cells settle at the bottom of a tube. A higher ESR can indicate inflammation.
	5. C-reactive protein (CRP) test: This blood test measures the level of CRP, a protein that is produced in response to inflammation.
	6. Imaging tests: X-rays, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be used to visualize the affected joints and assess the extent of damage.

Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not yet fully understood, but it is believed to be the result of a combination of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors. Some of the potential causes of rheumatoid arthritis include:

1. Genetics: Studies have shown that genetics play a significant role in the development of RA. People with a family history of the disease are at a higher risk of developing RA themselves. Specific genes, such as the HLA-DRB1 gene, have been associated with an increased risk of RA.
2. Environmental factors: Environmental factors, such as infections and exposure to toxins, may trigger the immune system to attack the joints in people who are genetically susceptible to RA. Smoking, in particular, has been linked to an increased risk of RA.
3. Hormones: Women are more likely to develop RA than men, leading some researchers to suggest that hormones may play a role in the development of the disease. Women who have had multiple pregnancies also have a lower risk of developing RA.
4. Age: RA can occur at any age, but it most commonly develops in people between the ages of 40 and 60.
5. Obesity: Research suggests that obesity may be a risk factor for RA. Obesity can lead to chronic inflammation, which can contribute to the development of the disease.
6. Other health conditions: People with certain health conditions, such as periodontal disease, may be at an increased risk of developing RA.

Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) typically involves a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and supportive therapies. The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and improve joint function.

1. Medications: There are several types of medications used to treat RA, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biologic drugs. NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, help to reduce pain and inflammation. DMARDs, such as methotrexate and sulfasalazine, help to slow the progression of the disease by suppressing the immune system. Biologic drugs, such as etanercept and adalimumab, target specific proteins that contribute to inflammation.
2. Lifestyle changes: Making certain lifestyle changes can also help to manage the symptoms of RA. Regular exercise, such as walking and swimming, can help to improve joint function and reduce pain. Eating a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help to maintain a healthy weight and reduce inflammation. Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can also help to reduce inflammation and improve overall health.
3. Supportive therapies: There are several supportive therapies that can help to manage the symptoms of RA. Physical therapy can help to improve joint mobility and reduce pain. Occupational therapy can help to make everyday activities easier to perform. Assistive devices, such as braces and splints, can also help to support the joints and reduce pain.
4. Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair or replace damaged joints. Joint replacement surgery, such as hip or knee replacement, can help to improve joint function and reduce pain.

Currently, there is no known way to prevent rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, there are some lifestyle factors that may help to reduce the risk of developing the disease or delay its onset.

1. Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing RA. Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise can help to reduce this risk.
2. Don't smoke: Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of developing RA. Quitting smoking or avoiding smoking altogether may help to reduce the risk.
3. Minimize stress: Stress has been shown to increase the risk of developing RA in some studies. Practicing stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises may help to lower the risk.
4. Avoid certain infections: Some infections have been linked to the development of RA, including those caused by the bacteria that cause gum disease. Maintaining good oral hygiene and seeking prompt treatment for any infections may help to reduce the risk.
5. Get regular exercise: Regular exercise can help to maintain joint flexibility and strength, as well as improve overall health. Low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, and yoga are good options for people with joint pain or stiffness.

While these lifestyle factors may help to reduce the risk of developing RA, they do not guarantee prevention. It is important to speak with a healthcare provider if there is a family history of RA or if there are any symptoms of joint pain, stiffness, or swelling. Early detection and treatment can help to manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.


Joint deformity
Nodules in joints (elbows, fingers, or other areas of the body)
Eye dryness and pain
Tenderness in joints
Swollen joints
Joint pain and stiffness
Loss of appetite

Confirmation Tests

- Rheumatoid factor (RF) test
- Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) test
- Complete blood count
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test
- C-reactive protein (CRP) test
- X-rays
- Ultrasound