When you mention arthritis, most people think of osteoarthritis, where aging and wear-and-tear on the joints take their toll, but there is another type of arthritis that causes devastating damage after your immune system starts attacking your joints. In fact, it largely affects Black Americans, according to the Journal of Clinical Medicine.
Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of autoimmune inflammatory arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Here’s what you need to know about rheumatoid arthritis, including its symptoms, types and treatments.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that mostly affects joints. Commonly affected joints are the hands, knees or ankles. Usually, both sides are affected. Over time, RA progresses and leaves patients with irreversible joint tissue damage, chronic pain, loss of function and deformities. Other areas of the body that may be involved are eyes, heart, circulatory system and/or the lungs.
Rheumatoid arthritis types
There are two main types of RA, seropositive and seronegative. When RA occurs in patients under 16, it is called Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.
Seropositive means your blood has two types of antibodies — anti-cyclic citrullinated peptides (anti-CCPs) and rheumatoid factor (RF) — which cause the symptoms of RA. Most people with RA have one or both of these antibodies. It is possible for these to show up in your blood tests anywhere from five to 10 years before symptoms appear.
Seronegative simply means that the anti-CCPs and RF do not show up in your blood. Doctors will look for other ways to determine if you have RA.
Rheumatoid arthritis causes
RA is the result of an immune response in which the body attacks its own healthy cells. While researchers don’t know why this occurs, studies show that it could be a combination of factors, including genes, environment (smoking) and sex hormones, according to the U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).
Risk factors include family history, age, sex (women are more likely to have RA), previous joint injury and obesity, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
The joint stiffness found in active RA is usually worse in the morning and may last