Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of arthritis, which is a term for a group of often painful medical conditions that affect the body’s musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system enables the body to move and includes the skeleton, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints, and other connective tissue. Unlike the wear-and-tear joint damage that occurs with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis involves inflammation (swelling) in the body’s joints – often in the hands and feet – causing pain, stiffness, warmth, and even severe joint damage. Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, which means that it affects the whole body rather than a single part. It can affect bodily organs such as the skin, eyes, lungs, and blood vessels. The inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of heart and lung disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis can occur in people of any age, including children as young as three. But most often it begins after age 40, and it is much more common in women. The cause is not fully understood, but it is considered to be an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it happens when the body’s natural disease defense system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. Autoimmune diseases tend to run in families. Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is provided long-term, and it focuses on controlling its symptoms and preventing joint damage. Modern treatments are very effective, especially if started within six months after the first joint swelling occurs.
Faculty and staff of the UAB Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology program address problems involving the joints, muscles, soft tissue, and connective tissue, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, osteoarthritis, vasculitis, and gout, as well as autoimmune diseases that affect the musculoskeletal system. Our program has been ranked among the best in the nation for more than 20 consecutive years by U.S. News & World Report, and it handles more than 20,000 patient visits annually. It is staffed by practitioners and specialists in multiple fields, making it easier for physicians to collaborate on diagnoses and treatments.
In addition to outpatient rheumatology services, UAB Rheumatology provides advanced care for hospitalized patients with known or suspected rheumatologic conditions. Our rheumatology consultation service includes comprehensive evaluation and treatment recommendations for patients at UAB Hospital and UAB Hospital-Highlands, the Birmingham VA Medical Center, Cooper Green Mercy Hospital, and other UAB-affiliated hospitals. Our patients also benefit from the UAB Comprehensive Arthritis, Musculoskeletal, and Autoimmunity Center, which is an interdisciplinary research center focused on better understanding the causes, processes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and related diseases.
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