Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that causes the lining of your joints or other body areas to become inflamed. As it progresses, it further damages the tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone in your joints. It may also damage other areas of the body, including the lungs or blood vessels.
RA affects about 1.2 million people in the United States. Although it can occur at all ages, people most often develop RA between the ages of 25 and 50 years. About 1% of the adult population in the US has RA, with women 2 to 3 times as likely as men to get it.
It was thought that children get RA (called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or JRA), but it is now recognized to be a different set of diseases, collectively called juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).
RA is a serious, usually progressive disease that can lead to severe disability, reduced quality of life, and shorter lifespan. Fortunately, treatment and management strategies developed over the last 40 years have led to much improved lives, longevity, and outcomes for many RA patients.
There is currently no cure for RA.
RA is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body's immune system fails to recognize its own tissue and views it as a foreign invader. In the case of RA, the immune system attacks mostly the joints, but it can affect other organ tissues as well.
It's hard to determine who will develop RA. It is believed that RA may be caused by a combination of factors, including genetic risk and environmental factors. If someone has a close relative that has RA, they have a 2 to 3 times higher risk of having RA.