This simple question is an important one to ask if you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. That’s because many health conditions can look a lot like RA, leading to a frustrating misdiagnosis.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis (or RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects 1.5 million Americans. Its onset occurs between the ages of 30 and 60, making it a disease that often surfaces in midlife.
It is more common in women than men, with three times more women developing it. However, RA is a bit fickle in that it is said to come on at a later age in men as opposed to women.
RA is a disease of confusion. This is because, when a person has RA, the body’s immune system makes a mistake. To put this in context, the immune system normally attacks things that it considers to be bad, like bacteria and viruses. Its job is to look for things that simply shouldn’t be present in the body and try to destroy them.
But in the case of RA, the immune system mistakes the body’s tissue as a foreign invader and attacks it. The result is inflammation with a thickening of the tissues lining the joints. Consequently, pain develops. And even more concerning, the immune system can wage war against bodily organs in extreme cases of RA.
RA generally affects the joints in six places: hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. Further, these issues are often uniform in that if one side is affected, then the other will be, too.
RA is said to be a “systematic disease” because it can affect the entire body, including the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, which can make the disease very dangerous.