Your joints are sometimes a bit stiff when you first wake in the morning, but lately they've been downright swollen and uncomfortable. You were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a couple of years back, and thanks to the medications your doctor recommended your signs and symptoms have largely been kept in check — until now.
Inside your joints
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system attacks the joint linings (synovial membranes) that protect and lubricate your joints.
When this happens, the membranes become inflamed, causing your joints to feel warm, painful and swollen. This is called synovitis. The joints may also become stiff, particularly in the morning.
Persistent inflammation can cause the release of cells, chemicals and enzymes that begin to eat away at cartilage and bone. Damage to tendons and ligaments also may occur. Over time, this process may cause the muscles around the joint to become weak. Eventually, this inflammation leads to destruction of the joint. This is what makes prompt treatment of rheumatoid arthritis so important.
Who's at risk
Although experts don't fully understand the cause of rheumatoid arthritis, there's evidence that a combination of genes, hormones and environmental factors are involved.
People with a specific genetic marker are five times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than are people without the marker. In recent years, researchers have identified over 100 other genes linked to increased risk of developing more-severe disease.
Infectious agents, such as bacteria and viruses, are thought to possibly trigger the disease in people...
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