Unlike osteoarthritis, which is a “wear and tear” phenomenon, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that results in joint pain, stiffness and swelling. The disease process leads to severe, and at times rapid, deterioration of multiple joints, resulting in severe pain and loss of function.
Although the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, some experts believe that a virus or bacteria may trigger the disease in people having a genetic predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis. Many doctors think rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the synovial tissue of the joint is attacked by one’s own immune system. The onset of rheumatoid arthritis occurs most frequently in middle age and is more common among women.
The primary symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are similar to osteoarthritis and include pain, swelling and the loss of motion. In addition, other symptoms may include loss of appetite, fever, energy loss, anemia, and rheumatoid nodules (lumps of tissue under the skin). People suffering with rheumatoid arthritis commonly have periods of exacerbation or “flare ups” where multiple joints may be painful and stiff.