How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Each Part of the Body

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, autoimmune disease. It is an inflammatory type of arthritis which affects the joints. The disease also may have systemic effects, affecting other organs of the body.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include joint pain, joint stiffness, joint inflammation and joint deformity. Fever, malaise, severe fatigue, and morning stiffness lasting more than one hour are also common symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

About 80 percent of rheumatoid arthritis patients test positive for rheumatoid factor (detected by a blood test). Approximately 20 percent of rheumatoid arthritis patients are classified as having "seronegative rheumatoid arthritis" because they lack rheumatoid factor.

With rheumatoid arthritis, there is a symmetrical pattern of affected joints. For example, both knees of a patient are usually affected rather than one knee.

Knee Joint

Arthritic knees

With rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation of the synovial lining causes swelling, pain, redness, warmth, and stiffness of the affected joint. The synovium begins to thicken and inflamed cells release enzymes that digest bone and cartilage. Joint damage and joint deformity may result causing limited range of motion and decreased function of the joint.

Hip Joint

Hip joint pain / Getty Images

Any joint can be affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Aggressive disease can reduce the range-of-motion of many joints. When the weightbearing joints are affected, such as the hips, knees, and ankles, mobility may be greatly impacted.

Joint erosion, which is visible on x-ray, can be severe and limiting. As the joint becomes eroded and cartilage is damaged, bone-on-bone can be the painful end result. Severe damage to cartilage, tendons, ligaments and bone can cause joints to become unstable and even deformed as rheumatoid arthritis progresses.


X-ray showing rheumatoid arthritis in hands (Colour Enhanced)
RNHRD NHS Trust / Getty Images

Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly begins in the smaller joints of the fingers, hands, and wrists. Rheumatoid arthritis can result in hand deformity, joint problems and damage of the fingers, thumb, hand, and wrist including:

Systemic Disease

Senior African American man rubbing his shoulder
Terry Vine / Getty Images

Rheumatoid arthritis not only affects the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease which may also affect other organs of the body including the skin, lungs, heart, nerves, and rarely the kidneys.

Rheumatoid arthritis is more prevalent in women than men. Interestingly, rheumatoid lung disease occurs more frequently in men who are positive for rheumatoid factor, have subcutaneous nodules, and a long disease course.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients also have a higher risk of coronary heart disease than people in the general population.

Knee Replacement

Total Knee Replacement prostheis
33karen33 / Getty Images

Joint damage and deformity can be repaired by knee replacement surgery, which can also reduce pain and restore function. The damaged articular portions of the femur, tibia, and kneecap are shaved off and resurfaced. A two-part prosthesis (usually metal) is implanted.

Hip Replacement

Orthopaedic surgeon and nurse with replacement hip stem in operating theatre
Monty Rakusen / Getty Images

Hip replacement surgery can reduce pain, restore function, and correct joint damage and deformity. The hip is a ball (femoral head) and socket (acetabulum) joint. A total hip prosthesis consists of an acetabular component and femoral shaft which are surgically implanted to replace the damaged parts of the hip.

Joint replacements exist for other joints too, such as the shoulder, wrist, and ankle. Knee and hip replacements are most commonly performed. According to the National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, about 435,000 Americans have a hip or knee replaced each year.

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Article Sources

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