What You Need To Know About Rheumatoid Arthritis Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disorder that affects more than just your joints. In some patients, this condition can damage a wide variety of systems like the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and more. An autoimmune disorder, this condition occurs when your immune system attacks your body tissues. Unlike the normal wear-and-tear damage of age, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, which causes a painful swelling that over time, results in joint deformity and bone erosion. The inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis can also damage other parts of the body. Although new medications have improved treatment dramatically, severe rheumatoid arthritis can still cause physical disabilities. Signs and symptoms may include: – Warm, tender, swollen joints – Joint stiffness which becomes worse after inactivity & in the mornings – Fatigue and loss of appetite – Early rheumatoid arthritis affects your smaller joints first, particularly finger and toe joints. As it progresses, symptoms spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, and more. Many people who have rheumatoid arthritis also experience signs that don’t involve the joints. The condition can affect many non-joint structures, including: – Skin – Eyes – Lungs – Heart – Kidneys – Salivary glands – Nerve tissue – Bone marrow – Blood vessels Rheumatoid arthritis signs may vary in severity from person to person and may even come and go. Periods of relative remission with the swelling and pain disappearing or fading, alternate with periods of flare-ups.Over time, it can cause joints to deform and even shift out of place. When to See a Doctor You should probably make an appointment with your doctor if you have constant discomfort and swelling in your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur when your immune system attacks the lining of the membrane that surrounds all your joints. The resulting inflammation thickens the membrane, which can eventually even destroy the cartilage and bone within that joint. The tendons and ligaments that hold the joint can weaken and stretch, gradually losing its shape as well as alignment. Doctors don’t really know what starts this process, though a genetic component seems likely. While your genes don’t actually cause this condition, they can make you more susceptible to environmental factors such as infection with certain viruses and bacteria, that may in turn trigger this disease.