What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

A Misnamed Disease: Rheumatoid Arthritis is a misnomer

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) has an ill-fated name. Things sometimes do: spaghetti squash is not pasta; a hot dog is not a dog; we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway.

Rheumatoid” is a reference to rheumatic fever which is not at all related to Rheumatoid Arthritis. The word “rheumatic” comes from an ancient Greek word for “flow,” which reflects a primitive understanding of medicine. By the eighteenth century, a similarity was noted between the painful symptoms of rheumatic fever and those of what we call Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Of course, we all know what “arthritis” means: literally, inflamed joints. Technically, Rheumatoid Arthritis is completely unrelated to the condition most people call “arthritis”: osteoarthritis.

Doctors call osteoarthritis by that name now so that it can be distinguished from Rheumatoid Arthritis and many other diseases using that word. Some do refer to Rheumatoid disease or autoimmune arthritis, but that can also refer to Lupus, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Juvenile Arthritis, or Psoriatic arthritis. Maybe we just need a better name for Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Is a Systemic Disease

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is actually a systemic autoimmune disease which attacks primarily, but not solely, the joints. It is an incurable disease affecting the synovial tissues which surround joints and similar lining tissues of certain organs.  Through a very complex process, various kinds of immune cells attack and eventually destroy otherwise healthy tissues.

In Moderate to Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis (sometimes called Progressive RA or Aggressive RA), many joints, or every joint in some cases, becomes painfully stiff, weakened, or swollen. Mild RA is distinguished from those cases since fewer joints, such as hand or feet joints only, are usually involved. In either case, tissues which support and connect joints, and eventually the bone tissues themselves are gradually destroyed. The result is dislocation, disability, and deformity, often leading to multiple joint replacements.

The Rheumatoid Arthritis disease courses

There are a few different courses which Rheumatoid Arthritis can take. Some patients will have remissions between active disease flares. RA can improve a great deal during the remissions. Only about five percent of RA patients will experience a permanent remission of all Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms. The worst course of Rheumatoid Arthritis is one in which no remissions are seen. 

RA is usually progressive, even in patients with periodic remissions. The more Rheumatoid Arthritis progresses, the more likely it is to move beyond the joints. However, RA also can begin in extra articular fashion.

Rheumatoid Arthritis can affect various organs including eyes, lungs, heart, mouth, kidneys, liver, blood vessels, nerves, and skin. RA patients also have a higher incidence of certain dangerous conditions including heart disease, stroke, periodontal disease, osteoporosis, anemia, vasculitis, peripheral neuropathy, lymphoma and other blood cancers. Exact causes for these facts are unknown.

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  1. […] on wrapping up the knee and ankle and trying to take it easy when they felt especially bad. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), so I’m used to getting on with life even if my joints […]

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