Rheumatoid Arthritis: Understanding Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

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Close-up of hands with swollen knuckles and redness, characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis.


Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition where the body’s immune system attacks the joints, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness, especially in the hands and feet. It can also make you feel tired and achy. Over time, it can damage the joints and make them look different. Doctors use tests like blood tests to diagnose it. Treatment includes medicines, exercises, and sometimes therapy to help manage pain and keep joints moving. It’s important to stay active, eat well, and talk to your doctor regularly to control the condition and feel better.

In this blog, we discuss these topics: 

Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Understanding

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can impact more than just your joints. In some individuals, this condition can harm various body systems, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.

As an autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your tissues.

Unlike the wear-and-tear damage seen in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, leading to painful swelling that can eventually cause bone erosion and joint deformity.

The inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis can also damage other parts of the body. While new medications have significantly improved treatment options, severe rheumatoid arthritis can still result in physical disabilities.

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms can vary and may come and go. Common symptoms include:

Joint Symptoms

  • Pain: Aching in the joints, especially in the hands, wrists, and knees.
  • Swelling: Joints may become swollen, tender, and warm.
  • Stiffness: Joints feel stiff, especially in the mornings or after resting, lasting for an hour or more.
  • Redness: Inflamed joints may look red.

General Symptoms

  • Fatigue: Feeling very tired and lacking energy.
  • Fever: Low-grade fever might occur.
  • Loss of Appetite: Not feeling hungry, which can lead to weight loss.
  • Weakness: A general feeling of weakness and discomfort.

Other Symptoms

  • Symmetrical Pattern: Symptoms often happen in the same joints on both sides of the body.
  • Nodules: Firm lumps under the skin, usually near pressure points.
  • Range of Motion: Difficulty moving joints as easily as before.
  • Affecting Other Organs: Inflammation can also affect other parts of the body like the eyes, mouth, lungs, and heart.


  • Increased Symptoms: Symptoms can worsen in “flares,” which can vary in length and intensity, with better periods in between.

Long-Term Effects

  • Joint Deformity: Over time, joint damage can change the shape of joints.
  • Chronic Pain: Long-lasting pain due to ongoing inflammation and joint damage.
  • Disability: Severe RA can lead to major physical limitations.

Getting an early diagnosis and treatment is important to manage symptoms and prevent joint damage. If you have lasting joint pain and swelling, see a doctor for a check-up and possible treatment.

Person using a cane to walk with stiffness in their legs.

Reasons behind Rheumatoid Arthritis

The exact reasons behind rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are not fully known, but several factors may cause it:

Immune System Issues

  • Autoimmune Response: RA happens when the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints, causing inflammation and joint damage.

Genetic Factors

  • Family History: If your family members have RA, you are more likely to get it.
  • Specific Genes: Certain genes, like HLA-DRB1, increase the risk of RA.

Environmental Factors

  • Infections: Some infections might trigger RA in people who are genetically prone to it.
  • Smoking: Smoking significantly increases the risk and can worsen RA symptoms.
  • Exposure to Pollutants: Contact with harmful substances like asbestos or silica might raise the risk.

Hormonal Factors

  • Gender: Women are more likely to get RA, suggesting hormones may play a role.
  • Hormonal Changes: Changes in hormone levels, like during pregnancy or menopause, can affect RA.

Lifestyle Factors

  • Obesity: Being overweight increases the risk and can worsen symptoms.
  • Diet: While diet doesn’t cause RA, it can influence inflammation and health.


  • Onset Age: RA can start at any age but is most common between 40 and 60.

Stress and Physical Trauma

  • Emotional Stress: High-stress levels may trigger RA or make it worse.
  • Physical Injury: Injuries to joints might trigger RA in those who are prone to it.

Understanding these factors can help in managing RA and possibly reducing the risk of developing it. However, because RA is complex with many contributing factors, it’s hard to identify a single cause.

Diagram of a healthy joint and a joint affected by rheumatoid arthritis.

Options for Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

There are different treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to help manage symptoms and improve quality of life:


  • NSAIDs: These drugs, like ibuprofen and naproxen, reduce pain and swelling.
  • Corticosteroids: Medications like prednisone quickly reduce pain and inflammation but are usually used short-term.
  • DMARDs: These drugs, such as methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine, slow down the disease and prevent joint damage.
  • Biologics: These newer drugs, like etanercept and adalimumab, target specific parts of the immune system.
  • JAK Inhibitors: Drugs like tofacitinib help by affecting certain enzymes in the immune system.

Physical Therapy

  • Exercise Programs: A physical therapist can design exercises to improve flexibility and strength.
  • Occupational Therapy: An occupational therapist can show you how to do daily tasks with less pain.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Regular Exercise: Activities like swimming or walking help keep joints flexible and healthy.
  • Healthy Diet: Eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and fish can help reduce inflammation.
  • Weight Management: Keeping a healthy weight reduces stress on your joints.

Assistive Devices

  • Supports and Braces: These can protect your joints and help with movement.
  • Adaptive Tools: Special tools can make daily tasks easier and reduce joint strain.


  • Joint Repair: Surgery can fix or replace damaged joints.
  • Synovectomy: This surgery removes the inflamed joint lining to reduce pain.

Alternative Therapies

  • Acupuncture: Some people find relief from pain with acupuncture.
  • Massage: Gentle massage can reduce muscle tension and pain.
  • Supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids and other supplements might help reduce inflammation, but talk to your doctor first.

Regular Medical Care

  • Monitoring: Regular visits to a rheumatologist to check disease progress and adjust treatment.
  • Education: Learning about RA and treatment options helps you make better health decisions.

Stress Management

  • Relaxation Techniques: Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can help manage stress and improve well-being.

Work with your healthcare team to create a treatment plan that works best for you.

Having to live with arthritis

Living with arthritis can be hard, but there are ways to make it easier:

Understand Your Condition

  • Learn About Arthritis: Understand what kind of arthritis you have and what it does to your body.
  • Stay Updated: Keep learning about new treatments and ways to manage arthritis.

Manage Symptoms

  • Take Medicine: Use the medicine your doctor gives you to help with pain and swelling.
  • Exercise: Do activities like walking, swimming, or biking to keep your joints flexible and muscles strong.
  • Eat Healthy: Eat lots of fruits, veggies, and healthy foods to help your body work better.
  • Stay at a Good Weight: Being a healthy weight can help your joints feel better.

Daily Tips

  • Take Breaks: Don’t do too much at once. Take breaks when you need them.
  • Use Tools: Things like jar openers or special grips can help with daily tasks.
  • Change How You Do Things: Find easier ways to do things that don’t hurt your joints.

Deal with Pain

  • Use Heat or Ice: Heat pads or ice packs can help with pain and swelling.
  • Get Massages: Gentle massages can help relax your muscles.
  • Relax: Doing things like yoga or deep breathing can help you relax and feel better.

Get Support

  • Join a Group: Talk to other people with arthritis. They understand what you’re going through.
  • Talk to Friends and Family: Tell them how they can help you.

Go to the Doctor

  • See Your Doctor: Regular check-ups help your doctor see how you’re doing and if your treatment needs to change.
  • Get Physical Therapy: A therapist can give you exercises to help you move better and feel less pain.

Take Care of Your Feelings

  • Stay Positive: Think about what you can do, not what you can’t.
  • Talk to Someone: If you feel sad or overwhelmed, talk to someone who can help.

By doing these things, you can live a good life even with arthritis.


Q1. What is Stage 1 Rheumatoid Arthritis?

A1. In Stage 1, your joints are inflamed. This means they may be swollen, painful, and stiff. If you get an X-ray, the doctor won’t see any damage to your bones yet.

Q2. What is the Main Cause of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

A2. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissues by mistake. We don’t know exactly what causes this to happen.

Q3. Can You Recover from Rheumatoid Arthritis?

A3. There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. But with early diagnosis and proper treatment, many people can have long periods without symptoms. This helps them live full lives and keep working.

Q4. What is the Best Thing to Do for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

A4. Rest and exercise are important. When your arthritis is active, rest more. When it’s not as active, do more exercise. Rest can reduce pain and swelling, while exercise can help keep your joints flexible.

Q5. What is Stage 4 Arthritis?

A5. Stage 4 arthritis, also called severe osteoarthritis, means the cartilage in your joint is almost gone. This makes your knee very stiff, painful, and hard to move. Surgery might be needed at this stage.

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