RA advances through three stages:
The first stage causes swelling of the synovial lining, producing pain, a warming sensation, stiffness, redness and swelling around the joint.
The second stage causes rapid division and growth of cells which causes the synovium lining to thicken.
In the third stage, the inflamed cells release enzymes that may digest bone and cartilage, often causing the infected joint to lose its shape and alignment. This also causes more pain and some loss of movement.
There is no cure for RA and frequent flares in disease activity occur spontaneously. RA can also begin to affect other organs in the body. However, studies have shown that early aggressive treatment of RA can limit joint damage, somewhat eliminating loss of movement, decreased ability to work, and potential surgery.
Currently, RA affects 1.3 million Americans and the cause remains unknown. However, through the use of new drugs, exercise, joint protection techniques and self-management techniques, more people are living with RA and leading happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives.