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Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms and Risk Factors

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects about 1 percent of the adult population in the United States. It is marked by severe inflammation of the joints.

The cause is unknown, but likely involves genetic and environmental factors. If left uncontrolled, the condition can lead to destruction of the joints and significant disability within 10 to 20 years from onset.

The typical presentation consists of a gradual onset of arthritis in the fingers, hands, wrists, and toes. Affected individuals experience of pain, morning stiffness, and joint swelling. In addition, symptoms can occur outside the joints, including eye disease, heart disease, vascular disease, and anemia.

Risk Factors

Prevalence varies widely among ethnic and regional groups. For example, less than 1 percent of rural Africans are affected, compared with 5 percent of Pima Indians. Other risk factors include:

  • Age: The typical age of onset is 30 to 55 years, although the disease may occur at any age. 
  • Gender: Rheumatoid arthritis is two to three times more common in women than in men.
  • Genetics: Certain genes increase the risk of disease.


Rheumatoid Arthritis: Diagnosis and Treatment >>