What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis, or more commonly known as RA, is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. A normal immune system will protect itself by attacking foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. Rheumatoid arthritis creates inflammation that causes the tissue lining the inside of the joints to swell. This swelling will result in pain in and around the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis more commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. Most times RA will affect the joints bilaterally, meaning if you have RA in your right hand, then you will most likely also have it in your left hand.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Initially, people with RA may not see their symptoms right away. Some people may experience the following symptoms:
- Joint pain, tenderness, swelling or stiffness for 6 weeks or more
- Morning stiffness lasting 30 minutes or more
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
If the inflammation caused by RA goes unchecked, it can cause damage to cartilage and to the bones. Over time there is a loss of cartilage, which caused the joint spacing between the bones to become smaller. This can result in joint becoming loose, unstable, and painful and loss in their mobility. Joint deformity also may occur which is non-reversible.
Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect other body systems such as the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
How the VA Rates RA
Rheumatoid Arthritis is rated under Diagnostic Code 5002. RA can be evaluated at up to a 100 percent disability rating if it results in the veteran becoming bedridden or complete incapacitation. Lower ratings will be assigned for occasional incapacitating episodes. The rating schedule is as follows:
- 100 percent: Total incapacitating rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
- 60 percent: four or more incapacitation episodes per year or experiencing weight loss, anemia, and a decline in health
- 40 percent: three or more incapacitating episodes per year or a definitive impairment in overall health
- 20 percent: Two or more incapacitating episodes per year
It is important to note that these ratings cannot be used in addition to other ratings for limited motion. Any rheumatoid arthritis that is less severe than the above-listed symptoms are just rated on their own, such as limited motion. This means that these symptoms can be rated under their own specific diagnostic code for each major or minor group of joints. A minimum of 10 percent is given for every joint that has pain with motion. In order to be rated under the different diagnostic codes, a limited range of motion must be confirmed with symptoms of swelling, painful motion with evidence and muscle spasms.