Rheumatoid Arthritis: Yeah, It’s a Pain

4 min read  |  May 07, 2024  | 

Arthritis can be frustrating and challenging no matter what form you have. But for the 30-plus million Americans who have osteoarthritis, at least their condition tends to follow a predictable progression. Osteoarthritis typically impacts joints such as the knees, wrists or elbows, and it occurs as you get older and as joints wear down. 

However, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is not that predictable for people living with it. While osteoarthritis tends to occur due to time and motion, RA is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body’s immune system attacks itself and causes pain and inflammation. The World Health Organization estimates that it impacts more than 18 million people worldwide. 

“Rheumatoid arthritis can be seen in any age group, including young adults,” says Ozlem Pala, M.D., M.S.P.H., a rheumatologist with the University of Miami Health System. “It usually causes multiple sources of joint pain and swelling, as well as prolonged morning stiffness.”

What causes RA?

Like many autoimmune disorders, RA can feel like it occurs out of the blue.

Unfortunately, experts still don’t fully understand what causes RA. Some people have a genetic predisposition for the disease. It’s also more likely to occur after exposure to environmental factors, such as job site-related dust or smoke or (most commonly) cigarette smoking. Women are also more likely to get RA than men. 

Research has also shown that taking positive steps for your health can prevent the this form of arthritis. For example, quitting smoking, eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly reduce the risk of RA. 

What are the symptoms of RA?

Since RA occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own cells, the Arthritis Foundation says that most symptoms people experience are due to inflammation. This can make them different than those experienced during osteoarthritis and, at times, more severe. 

Some of the telltale signs of RA include:

  • Joint pain or tenderness
  • Swollen or stiff joints
  • Symptoms last for six weeks or more
  • Symptoms affect multiple joints and typically impact the small joints (like the hands and feet) of the body first.
  • The same joints are often affected, such as both wrists or both knees
  • Symptoms may become more severe in the form of flares
  • Fatigue or a low fever may also occur

RA treatment breakthroughs

While RA can be a frustrating condition, Dr. Pala says that great strides have been made in the treatment of the condition in recent years. 

“In the past 25 years or so, we have witnessed many new treatment options for RA, widely known as biologics,” she says. “Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, also known as DMARDs, are standard of care for RA. Some examples include MTX and biologics such as anti-TNF agents.” 

If you suspect that you might have RA, Dr. Pala it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. 

“Early diagnosis and treatment have the utmost importance in managing RA,” she says. “If we can diagnose and effectively treat the condition earlier, then we have a good chance to induce remission with ongoing treatment. While there is not currently any cure for RA, there are many effective and safe treatment options available, and closely monitored patients are likely to lead normal lives.” 

Wyatt Myers is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.


Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis: What’s the Difference,, 2022,

Mayo Clinic Q and A: Understanding osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, Mayo Clinic, 2019,

Rheumatoid arthritis, World Health Organization, 2023,,benefit%20from%20rehabilitation%20(2)

Interview with Ozlem Pala, M.D., M.S.P.H., a rheumatologist with the University of Miami Health System.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and More, Arthritis Foundation, 2021,

    Tags: Dr. Ozlem Pala, healthy tissues, joint damage, joint health, joint inflammation, joint pain

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