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Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that causes inflammation of the joints. The inflammation can become so severe that the function and appearance of the hands, as well as other parts of the body, can become affected. In the hand, rheumatoid arthritis may cause deformities in the joints of the fingers, making movement difficult. Lumps, known as rheumatoid nodules, may form over small joints in the hands and the wrist. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is a form of arthritis in children ages 16 or younger that causes inflammation and stiffness of joints for more than six weeks. Unlike adult rheumatoid arthritis, which is chronic and lasts a lifetime, children often outgrow juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. However, the disease can affect bone development in the growing child.
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which means the body's immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. The response of the body causes inflammation in and around the joints, which then may lead to a destruction of the skeletal system. Rheumatoid arthritis also may have devastating effects to other organs, such as the heart and lungs. Researchers believe certain factors, including heredity, may contribute to the onset of the disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects more women than men (70 percent of persons with rheumatoid arthritis are women). The disease most often occurs between the ages of 30 and 50.
The joints most commonly affected by rheumatoid arthritis are in the hands, wrists, feet, ankles, knees, shoulders, and elbows. The disease typically causes inflammation symmetrically in the body, meaning the same joints are affected on both sides of the body. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may begin suddenly or gradually. The following are the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the hands. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
If a person has four or more of the following symptoms, he/she may be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis:
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
Diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis may be difficult in the early stages, because symptoms may be very subtle and go undetected on x-rays or blood tests. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for rheumatoid arthritis may include the following:
Specific treatment for rheumatoid arthritis will be determined by your physician based on:
Treatment may include:
It is important to remember that surgery does not correct the underlying disease. It only helps correct the deformities caused by the disease. Rheumatoid arthritis can continue to cause problems in the hand, and may even require additional surgery. Close follow-up with your physician is required for optimal control of this disease.