Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the synovial membrane. The synovial membrane, or synovium, is the soft tissue that lines the insides of the joints and surrounds them. Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. In most cases, symptoms occur symmetrically—i.e., in the same joints on both sides of your body. This is one of the symptoms that distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from other forms of arthritis such as osteoarthritis, which is caused by the wear and tear between the cartilages of the bones.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the malfunction of the immune system creates inflammation of the joints which causes the synovial membrane to thicken, leading to swelling and pain in and around the joints. As a chronic autoimmune disorder, the condition could potentially affect a large number of body systems such as the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms of the disease:
• Joint pain, tenderness, swelling or stiffness for six weeks or longer
• Joint stiffness particularly in the morning and after periods of inactivity
• Overall fatigue and low-grade fever
• Difficulty sleeping due to inflammation
• Decrease or loss in the range of motion of the affected joints