Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition characterised by inflammation of the peripheral joints of the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and feet, usually on both sides of the body, potentially resulting in damage.
Damage is caused by persistent inflammation of the synovium, the membrane lining the joint, with subsequent damage of the cartilage, bone erosion and joint deformities. Although normally confined to the joints, in rare cases it may affect other systems such as the lungs, heart and nervous system.
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Reviewed by Dr Dr I C Louw, Rheumatologist/Physician and Dr A Halland, Rheumatologist/Physician, March 2007