This activity is for people who have chronic pain, who care for someone who does, as well as others who want to learn more about this topic. The goal is for you to be able to make a safe, effective chronic pain plan with your doctor.

You will learn about:

  • The nature of chronic pain
  • Ways to treat chronic pain
  • Questions to ask your doctor


What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an immune system condition, or “autoimmune disorder,” that causes inflammation of the lining of the joints. It may also affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, and nerves. Although RA symptoms can come and go, the disease can worsen over time and may never go away. Early, aggressive treatment is key to slowing or stopping it.

What Are the Symptoms?

Joint inflammation from RA comes with pain, warmth, and swelling. The inflammation is typically symmetrical, occurring on both sides of the body at the same time (such as the wrists, knees, or hands). Other symptoms of RA include joint stiffness, particularly in the morning or after periods of inactivity; ongoing fatigue, and low-grade fever. Symptoms typically develop gradually over years, but they can come on rapidly for some people.

Who Gets It?

It usually strikes between ages 30-60, but younger and older people can get it. About 1% of the U.S. population has the condition, which is two to three times more common in women than in men. You’re more likely to get it if you smoke or if you have a relative who has this disease.

What Causes It?

Scientists don’t know exactly why people get RA. Some people may have a genetic risk for it that gets triggered by a particular infection that experts haven’t yet identified.

How Does It Affect the Joints?

Inflammation of the lining of the joints can destroy cartilage and bone, deforming the affected joints. As the condition progresses, joints can become painful and not work as well.

What Does It Do to the Rest of the Body?

RA can affect organs and areas of the body other than the joints, including:

  • Rheumatoid nodules (shown here): firm lumps under the skin and in internal organs  
  • Sjogren's syndrome: inflammation and damage of the glands of the eyes and mouth; other parts of the body can also be affected
  • Pleuritis: inflammation of the lining of the lungs
  • Pericarditis: inflammation of the lining surrounding the heart
  • Anemia: not enough healthy red blood cells
  • Felty syndrome: not enough white blood cells. Also linked to ah enlarged spleen.
  • Vasculitis: blood vessel inflammation, which can hamper blood supply to tissues

What Is Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA)?

Juvenile RA is the most common type of arthritis in kids. Like adult RA, it causes joint inflammation, stiffness, and damage. However, it can also affect a child's growth. Juvenile RA is also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis. "Idiopathic" means the cause is unknown.

RA and Pregnancy

Surprisingly, rheumatoid arthritis improves in up to 80% of women during pregnancy. It will likely flare up after the baby is born. Why this happens is unclear. You may need to make changes in your medication before you conceive and during pregnancy.

What Doctors Will Check On

Because symptoms may come and go, diagnosing RA in its early stages is challenging. If you have these symptoms, your doctor may order further tests:

  • Morning joint stiffness
  • Swelling/fluid around several joints at the same time
  • Swelling in the wrist, hand, or finger joints
  • Same joints affected on both sides of your body
  • Firm lumps under the skin (rheumatoid nodules)

 Blood Tests You May Get

If your doctor thinks you have RA, she may give you blood tests to check for signs of inflammation in the body. Other common tests are for rheumatoid factor (RF) and “anti-CCP” (anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide), which most people with RA have. There is no single test for RA, though.

Imaging Tests You may May Get

X-rays can help diagnose RA and provide a baseline for comparison later as the disease progresses. You may also get an MRI or ultrasound to look for joint damage and inflammation.

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