Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease of small joints in the hands and feet. It may also target knees, wrists, neck, shoulders, elbow; even the jaw joints. In this disease, the individual's immune system affects the lining of the joints, causing painful swelling and joint deformities in severe conditions. The immune system makes antibodies against the joint, direct lymphocytes, stimulate cytokine production that cause inflammation of the joint, which is otherwise a normal reaction of the immune system against foreign particles or pathogens. The problem is three times more common in females as compared to men. It generally appears between ages 40 to 60 years, however, exceptions may exist.
People are quite differently affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Some show little or no symptoms, while others experience a hyper reaction from the beginning. It is characterized by several mild and severe symptoms. The symptoms appear in symmetric fashion, affecting the joint on both sides of the body.
Joint inflammation is the defining trait of rheumatoid arthritis. It is defined by stiffness of the joint making it difficult to move. Morning stiffness is the common observation in arthritis patients. The stiffened joint may take an hour to get back to its working state. Stiffness is always accompanied with the swelling of the joint. Swelling occurs when the fluid gets into the joint and makes it puffy. Both, swelling and stiffness make the condition worse.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the affected joint area appears pink and warmer, relative to other body parts. All these symptoms cause severe pain in the joint. Temporary as well as permanent inflammation, both increase the joint sensitivity, making it tender and extremely painful.
In addition to the observable signs, the patient may observe a change in general health. Fatigue and malaise are the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. A patient stays in a constant state of being ill and the body feels weak to take any physical stress. The situation usually leads to loss of appetite, which in turn causes things such as weakness of the body and muscles.
Fever is a common symptom in rheumatoid arthritis, and is a part of auto immune response. In case of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, also called Still's disease, the patients experience high fever, with shaking chills followed by pain and swelling in joints. Being related to other diseases, the symptoms may present a great challenge for correct diagnosis of the problem.