Rheumatoid (room-ah-toyd) arthritis is a chronic disease of the joints that is characterized by recurring periods of active inflammation. Women are affected more often than men, and it usually strikes between ages 25 and 55. Rheumatoid arthritis may begin without obvious symptoms in the joints. Over the first several weeks, symptoms may include listlessness, loss of appetite, low-grade fever, and muscular pains. Eventually, it affects the small joints, often beginning in the fingers and spreading to the wrists and elbows. After a series of episodes, the bones next to the joint may slowly weaken. In severe cases, bone tissue may eventually be destroyed. The disease can also cause inflammation of the eyes, heart, lungs, and blood vessels, as well as changes in tissues that are just beneath the skin. Rheumatoid arthritis can usually be identified through X-rays and special blood tests. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your physician can prescribe a treatment plan of exercise and anti-inflammatory drugs to help relieve your discomfort. For more information about rheumatoid arthritis, contact a health care provider.