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Rheumatoid arthritis facts for kids

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Rheumatoid arthritis
X-ray of the hand in rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms Warm, swollen, painful joints
Complications Low red blood cells, inflammation around the lungs, inflammation around the heart
Usual onset Middle age
Duration Lifelong
Causes Unknown
Diagnostic method Based on symptoms, medical imaging, blood tests
Similar conditions Systemic lupus erythematosus, psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia
Medication Pain medications, steroids, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs
Frequency 0.5–1% (adults in developed world)
Deaths 30,000 (2015)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a serious, painful, and chronic (long-lasting) disease. It is an autoimmune disease - a disease where the body's immune system attacks healthy cells. When a person has RA, their immune system attacks the joints and the tissues around the joints in the body. This causes different problems, like:

  • The capsules around the joints get swollen
  • The body makes too much synovial fluid (the special fluid that is supposed to cushion the joints)
  • Tough fibrous tissue builds up in the synovium area (which is also supposed to help cushion the joints)

Eventually, RA can destroy a person's articular cartilage. Normally, articular (having to do with the joints) cartilage covers the end of bones where they come together to form joints. This keeps the bones from rubbing against each other. If the articular cartilage has been destroyed by RA, the bones will rub against each other, which is very painful.

No one knows what causes RA, but some theories are that it has to do with hormones, environment, and genes. There is no cure, but doctors have determined ways to help slow down and reduce the impact of the disease. Women are two to three times more likely than men to get rheumatoid arthritis. Most cases of RA occur in people between the ages of 25 and 55.

RA was first recognized around 1800 by Dr. Augustin Jacob Landré-Beauvais.


Symptoms may include:

  • Swelling, stiffness, and pain around affected joints
  • Fever
  • A feeling of discomfort and tiredness

Often, people with RA also develop anemia, a different disease that causes a person to have not enough blood cells in the blood.

Less often, a person with RA could have:

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