Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints, tendons and ligaments and other organs of the body. It affects approximately one percent of the population, to varying degrees. Some people have only mild disease that is easily controlled with simple medications but many people suffer severe pain, fatigue and disability.
The disease affects 3 – 4 times more women than men. The reasons for this are unclear, but it does implicate hormonal factors, or genetic factors.
Age is also a factor. Most people develop the disease between the ages of 35 and 50, although it can appear at any age. Even children can get rheumatoid arthritis, however it is referred to as JRA or Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Many children with JRA go on to develop adult RA.
Sometimes RA runs in families, but often there is no family history of autoimmune disease. Heavy, long term, smoking has been shown to increase the risk of developing Rheumatoid Arthritis. Environmental factors also play a role, but no one is certain about which combination of factors (environmental, genetic, lifestyle) put together will cause RA in any particular patient.
If you think you may have Rheumatoid Arthritis, you need to be referred to a Rheumatologist for diagnosis and treatment. Early diagnosis is key to preventing long term disability.