Zocdoc Answers

Medical questions & health advice by licensed doctors

"What causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?"


What is the cause of rheumatoid arthritis? Until recently I was under the impression that all arthritis was just an effect of ageing, but now that I have been having some symptoms, I have been reading, and it seems like that's not true and arthritis isn't really a specific term.


Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a unique form of arthritis that is a type of autoimmune disease, in which the immune cells that normally fight off infection are instead targeted against the body itself. In RA, these immune cells attack the lining of joints, which result in the common inflammatory symptoms of pain, redness, swelling, and warmth in the joints. The joints that are classically affected include the hands (fingers and wrists), knees, ankles and feet.

See a doctor who can help

Find a Rheumatologists near you

Usually the same joints are affected on each side of the body, and typically the symptoms are worst in the morning upon waking up. RA can also cause other systemic affects, such as inflammation of the lining of the lungs, heart and eyes. Over time, chronic inflammation can cause destruction and deformity of the joints, which is why early and aggressive therapy is very important. RA is a completely distinct entity from osteoarthritis (OA), which is the most common type of arthritis. While OA is associated with aging, it is not caused by aging. OA results from chronic and excessive mechanical forces on the joints, causing loss of cartilage in the joints and the subsequent development of local bony changes (such as bone spurs and cysts). OA is not an autoimmune disease, and is treated in a much different manner.

Zocdoc Answers is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.