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Rheumatoid polyarthritis, often called rheumatoid arthritis, is a disease caused by chronic inflammation of the joints. The inflammation (redness, pain, swelling, heat sensation) occurs when the immune system attacks healthy joints. This is known as an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint, but most often affects those in the hands and feet. It can also attack areas other than the joints.
Typical symptoms include:
Symptoms can vary from person to person. The onset can be gradual or appear quickly in the form of an acute episode accompanied by flu-like symptoms. Some people have a mild form, that is, they have flare-ups (inflammation and pain) and remissions. Others may have a continuous form of the active disease, with progressive worsening of the condition.
The inflammation causes wearing of the joints and the bone. In severe forms of the disease, the joints can become deformed and too stiff to function, making all movements difficult. Furthermore, about 20% of people affected by the disease have nodules (small lumps) under the skin, often near the elbows. Sometimes, the inflammation affects the heart and lung tissue. Certain parts of the eyes and mouth can also become inflamed, sometimes leading to dry eyes and lack of saliva. Rarely, the blood vessels, the skin, the nerves and other organs can be affected.
There is no cure for this disease, although certain measures can be taken to control it.
There are a number of drugs used for arthritis. Some of them help to ease pain and swelling (anti-inflammatory drugs, cortisone), others are used to slow down disease progression.
You can also contact The Arthritis Society at 1-800-321-1433 or visit www.arthritis.ca
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