Rheumatoid Arthritis

This information is useful for children, adults, and older adults
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Why Yale Medicine?
  • World-class experts, identifying and treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis
  • Treatment plans individualized for each patient.
  • Access to clinical trials to try promising new treatments

If you're one of 1.5 million people in the United States with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you're familiar with the pain and stiffness in your joints that comes with the disease. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system begins attacking the lining of its joints, causing pain, inflammation, and eventually, cartilage and bone damage. Rheumatoid arthritis can also harm the body’s internal organs such as the heart, lungs and nervous system.

At Yale Medicine, experienced doctors commit to giving patients an early and accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to help them manage symptoms and get back to living a normal life. 

The onset of rheumatoid arthritis is often gradual, and not every person experiences the same symptoms. Symptoms can also come and go. You may feel fine for days or months and then experience a flare in pain and swelling in the joints.

The first symptoms people often notice are stiffness, and pain or tenderness in their joints. The joints in wrists, hands, fingers and feet are most commonly affected early in rheumatoid arthritis' progression.

This stiffness is usually worse in the morning but typically gets better throughout the day. Also, it’s usually present on both sides of the body.

“People tend to have joint pain symmetrically, in multiple joints—in both hands, both wrists and both knees, for example,” says Cristina Maria Brunet, MD, assistant professor of Rheumatology at Yale Medicine. “But that isn’t always the case. There are exceptions.”

Along with stiffness and pain, people with rheumatoid arthritis sometimes notice warmth, swelling or redness in their joints. If the disease worsens, it can eventually cause deformities and a loss of function in joints, although these problems are less common now with better and earlier treatment options.

Because of the inflammation in their bodies, people with rheumatoid arthritis often also experience related symptoms such as fatigue, loss of appetite and fever.