ORGENTEC Autoimmunity Blog

Covering Autoimmune Diseases

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Facts and Figures about RA

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Some Facts and Figures about this Autoimmune Disorder – and quite a few Weblinks

By posting this article on rheumatoid arthritis, I start building up a glossary on the different types of autoimmune disorders. It will be quite a lot of work creating such an glossary, I’m fully aware of this, and this work has been done many times before by others on other websites and on other blogs.  

Portrait of mature man

Not a disease of the elderly: RA often starts between the age of 25 and 55!

But what I have in mind with this “autoimmune disease glossary project” is to exploit you the several mines of information I am using in my job routine, and the abundance of websites I am frequently visiting. In doing so, I start with rheumatoid arthritis, also called RA, as this autoimmune disease is the most common one and the most common inflammatory disease of the joints ever. As a matter of fact 0.5 to 1 percent of the population is affect in “The West” and in other industrialized countries. This means that in Germany about 800,000 individuals are suffering from this autoimmune disorder!  

Rheumatoid arthritis, RA, is a form of arthritis. Main symptoms are pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in the joints. The disease can affect any joint but it is common in the wrist and fingers.  

Rheumatoid arthritis: not a disease of the elderly!

It is a broadly held misconception that rheumatoid arthritis is a condition of the elderly. As a matter of fact, RA is different from osteoarthritis, the wear-and-tear arthritis which often comes along with older age and in elderly people. The bulk of new cases diagnosed in women are between the age 55 and 64, in men it is between 65 and 75. As a matter of fact the disease often starts in younger people, frequently aged 25 and 55. Strikingly, more women than men are affected.  

Besides the joints, RA can affect many (actually, almost all!) organs and different parts of the body, such as the patient’s eyes, his mouth and lungs, and indeed the heart. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which means the disease results from the immune system attacking the body’s own tissues. I already have written out an article about the immune system, about autoimmunity and the cause of autoimmune disorders, describing what happens when the body attacks itself. Admittedly, the article, which is published on our rheumachec website, is entitled quite sensationalist Autoimmune Disease – The Enemy Within Our Bodies.  

Indeed, no one knows exactly what causes rheumatoid arthritis. Genes, environment and hormones might contribute (on the topic of genetics, see the Research Update posted 07/04/2010: Genetics of Rheumatoid Arthritis Susceptibility by my colleague Dr. Friederike Hammar), and this may be the reason why women are affected much more often than men.  

Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include medicine, lifestyle changes and surgery. These can slow or stop joint damage and reduce pain and swelling, but never heal the autoimmune disease.  

RA treatment: remission is achievable!

Absolutely worth mentioning is the paradigm change in the field of RA treatment towards remission which becomes obvious in novel therapies, innovative medication and novel therapeutic strategies (see my article 10 Facts about Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Clinical Understanding of the Disease, posted on 03/05/2010). – Without doubt, there’s a lot happening in this field at present!  

A X-ray of the hand in rheumatoid arthritis.

A X-ray of the hand in rheumatoid arthritis.

When I wrote this post on rheumatoid arthritis, I took much information from the Background Media Information about rheumatic disorders, I had published before on our rheumachec website In that backgrounder titled Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatmentyou will find much more facts and figures and more detailed information on the autoimmune disorder called rheumatoid arthritis. Amidst the background information I am providing at the rheumachec website you will also find the Factsheet: Rheumatic Disease. I prepared that backgrounder and published it on the rheumachec site some month ago but of course it still is up-to-date.  

Worth mentioning in this regard is the EULAR Medical Media Backgrounder: Facts and figures about rheumatic disease (which is about rheumatic disorders in general, not just rheumatoid arthritis), released on the occasion of the Annual European Congress of EULAR this June (by the way, the acronym EULAR stands for The European League Against  

RA in a nutshell: to the glossary article on rheumatoid arthritis in the ORGENTEC Autoimmunity Blog glossary. 

Author of this article:  Tobias Stolzenberg


pictures are taken from: Potrait of Maturity is from stock.xchng byleroys, standard restrictionshand X-ray is from Wikimedia Commons by Bernd Brägelmann with kind permission of Dr. Martin Steinhoff, under Creative Commons license

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