what are the 4 stages of rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. It can lead to joint damage, disability, and decreased quality of life. There are four stages of rheumatoid arthritis that describe the progression of the disease over time.

Understanding these stages can help individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and their healthcare providers develop a treatment plan that is tailored to their specific needs. In this article, we will discuss what are the 4 stages of rheumatoid arthritis in detail, including their symptoms and how they are diagnosed.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues, leading to inflammation and damage.

In the case of RA, the immune system targets the synovium, which is the lining of the joints, causing inflammation and damage to the cartilage, bone, and other joint tissues.

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Stages of rheumatoid Arthritis?

The four stages of rheumatoid arthritis are:

Stage 1 – Early stage

Stage 2 – Moderate stage

Stage 3 – Severe stage

Stage 4 – End-stage or terminal stage.

What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors. Here are some of the factors that are thought to contribute to the development of RA:

  • Genetics 

Certain genes are believed to increase the risk of developing RA. However, having these genes does not necessarily mean that a person will develop the disease.

  • Environmental factors 

Exposure to certain environmental factors, such as cigarette smoke, may increase the risk of developing RA.

  • Immune system dysfunction 

In people with RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium, which is the lining of the joints. This leads to inflammation and joint damage.

  • Hormonal factors 

Women are more likely than men to develop RA, and hormonal changes may play a role in this gender disparity.

What are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid arthritis?

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. Here are some common symptoms of RA:

Joint pain 

RA typically causes pain and stiffness in the joints, particularly in the hands, feet, and wrists. The pain may be worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity.

Joint swelling and stiffness 

Inflammation in the joints can cause swelling, warmth, and redness. The affected joints may also feel stiff and difficult to move.

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Many people with RA experience fatigue, which can be overwhelming and interfere with daily activities.


Some people with RA may develop a low-grade fever, particularly during disease flares.

Loss of appetite and weight loss 

RA can cause loss of appetite and weight loss in some people.


Firm lumps, called nodules, can develop under the skin near affected joints.

Reduced range of motion 

As RA progresses, it can lead to joint deformities and reduced range of motion in the affected joints.

Can rheumatoid arthritis be prevented?

There are some steps that may reduce the risk of developing RA or delay its onset:

Don’t smoke: Smoking is a known risk factor for RA, so avoiding smoking or quitting smoking may help reduce the risk.

Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of developing RA, so maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise and a balanced diet may help reduce the risk.

Early treatment: Early diagnosis and treatment of RA may help slow the progression of the disease and reduce joint damage.

Regular exercise: Regular exercise can help improve joint flexibility, reduce pain and stiffness, and improve overall health.

Avoid joint injury: Avoiding joint injuries and overuse may help reduce the risk of developing RA or worsening existing symptoms.

What is the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis?

Here is a table that outlines the key differences between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA):

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Osteoarthritis (OA)
Cause Autoimmune disease Wear and tear on joint
Age of onset Typically younger age Typically older age
Joints affected Multiple joints Usually one or a few joints
Pattern of symptoms Symmetrical joint pain Asymmetrical joint pain
Inflammation Joint inflammation present Inflammation may be present
Joint stiffness Can last for hours Typically resolves in 30 minutes
Joint deformity Common Uncommon
Treatment options Medication, physical therapy, lifestyle changes Medication, physical therapy, lifestyle changes, joint replacement surgery
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How is rheumatoid arthritis treated?

Here are some common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Assistive devices
  • Surgery


Q1: What are the risk factors for developing RA? 

Ans: Genetics, smoking, gender, age, and obesity.

Q2: How does RA affect pregnancy? 

Ans: RA can increase the risk of certain complications during pregnancy, but with careful management, most women with RA can have a healthy pregnancy.

Q3: What are some common medications used to treat RA? 

Ans: NSAIDs, corticosteroids, DMARDs, and biologic agents.

Q4: How does RA affect other parts of the body? 

Ans: It can affect the lungs, heart, eyes, and other organs.

Q5: Is diet a factor in RA? 

Ans: While no specific diet has been shown to cure or prevent RA, some people with RA find that certain foods can trigger or worsen symptoms.


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