RA: The other arthritis

When you hear the word arthritis, you probably think of osteoarthritis — the gradual wearing away of joints that often occurs as people get older.

But there is another type of arthritis that many middle-aged and older people have that also causes painful and swollen joints: rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

With RA, the body’s immune system attacks the joints — most often the ones in the hands, wrists, feet and knees. Over time, it may also affect larger joints — such as the jaw, shoulders and hips — throughout the body.

Unlike most other types of arthritis, RA tends to affect the same joint on both sides of the body. So if the right hand is affected, for instance, the left one will be too.

In addition to joint problems, RA can trigger fever, fatigue, loss of appetite and hard bumps — called rheumatoid nodules — under the skin near the joints.

Medicines can ease the pain of RA and slow damage to joints.

Sources: American Academy of Family Physicians; National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases