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Rheumatoid Arthritis is an auto-immune disease where the immune system (the body's way of fighting infection) attacks healthy joints, tissues, and organs. Occurring most often, but not exclusively in women of childbearing age, this disease inflames the lining (or synovium) of joints. It can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of function in joints. When severe, rheumatoid arthritis can deform, or change, a joint. For example, the joints in a person's finger can become deformed, causing the finger to bend or curve. This ultimately leads to a loss of function, and sometimes, independence.
Rheumatoid Arthritis affects mostly joints of the hands and feet and tends to be symmetrical. This means the disease affects the same joints on both sides of the body. About two to three times as many women as men have this disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis is not only a disorder of joints, but can affect organs such as the lungs, heart, eyes and skin. Untreated rheumatoid arthritis is associated with accelerated cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and stokes), cancer (particularly lymphoma) and a reduced life expectancy.