Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Hands

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects joints throughout the body, and is common in the wrist and fingers. This autoimmune disorder occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. It typically causes joints to become swollen, painful, and potentially deformed, interfering with daily hand function and quality of life.


Doctors are still unsure what causes rheumatoid arthritis of the hands, although genetics and environmental factors (e.g. viruses and bacteria) likely play a role in developing the condition. The inflammation and swelling of the membranes surrounding the joints in the hands leads to cartilage damage and bone loss.


Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis of the hands may include tender or swollen joints, joint stiffness that is more prevalent in mornings or after inactivity, and joints that are unstable or deformed. Fingers often angle away from the thumb. Those with rheumatoid arthritis of the hands may also develop other hand conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome.


Rheumatoid arthritis of the hands can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other conditions and there is no blood test to confirm the diagnosis. Physicians will assess joints for swelling, redness, and muscle strength. X-rays can also be used to track the progression of rheumatoid arthritis in the hands over time.


There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis of the hands, but treatment options include anti-inflammatory medications, antirheumatic drugs, and biologics. Exercise, therapy, and modifying daily activities is often helpful. If rheumatoid arthritis cannot be controlled with medications and if the hands become weakened or deformed, surgery may be required for correction.

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