The terms polyarthritis, inflammatory arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are often used synonymously. Although they are related, they do not mean the same thing. RA is a disease and the other two are ways to describe a specific case of arthritis (how many joints are affected and the genesis of the disease).
Polyarthritis is defined as arthritis that affects five or more joints. This term simply means that multiple joints are involved; it does not clarify what type of arthritis occurs.
Conditions that can cause polyarthritis include:
Polyarthritis is associated not only with chronic diseases. It can also be a temporary symptom of a temporary illness such as rheumatic fever .
The treatment and prognosis of polyarthritis depends on its specific cause.
The term inflammatory arthritis generally refers to arthritis caused by an autoimmune disease of multiple joints throughout the body. In an autoimmune disease, your immune system malfunctions and attacks the body's own tissues. Damage to the joint, particularly its mucous membrane (synovium), causes inflammation.
Arthritis caused by inflammation is often accompanied by joint pain and stiffness, especially after periods of rest or inactivity, such as morning stiffness . Swelling, redness, and warmth can surround the affected joints.
Types of inflammatory arthritis include:
As with polyarthritis, the treatment and results of inflammatory arthritis depend on the specific diagnosis.
Inflammatory arthritis can also be associated with systemic effects .
Rheumatoid arthritis is a specific disease that, by definition, is a type of inflammatory polyarthritis. It is an autoimmune disorder that generally affects many joints symmetrically (the same joint on both sides of the body) and may be associated with systemic effects.
Early and aggressive treatment for rheumatoid arthritis can help prevent joint damage caused by inflammation. Disease -modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologics , which are often used in combination, are often part of a treatment regimen.
A Guide to Talking About Rheumatoid Arthritis with a Doctor
Get our printable guide to your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.
Get the word of drug information
If your healthcare provider uses one of the terms above and you don't understand what it means in relation to your symptoms or diagnosis, be sure to ask. The better you understand what is happening in your body, the better equipped you will be to deal with it, relieve symptoms, and improve your quality of life.