Written by Debby Mar 10 2014
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the fluid surrounding the joints. It affects about 400,000 people in the UK. It can affect adults of any age but most commonly starts between the ages of 40 and 50. It does seem to run in families although our genes don’t cause RA, only the likelihood of developing it. There is some evidence that lifestyle may affect the risk of developing the condition. It is more common in people who:
What happens with rheumatoid arthritis?
As the fluid in the joint becomes inflamed the membrane surrounding the joint becomes stretched and can’t hold the joint in its proper position causing it to become unstable and deformed. The inflamed fluid can also erode the bones of the joint and the cartilage becomes thin.
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?
Symptoms of RA tend to come and go. When the joints become inflamed and painful it is known as a flare up. Common symptoms include:-
Which joints are affected?
RA varies from person to person, but usually starts slowly. The fingers, wrist and feet may be among the first joints to become uncomfortable and people with RA often find their joints are stiff first thing in the morning.
How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?
There are 2 tests that can help in confirming the diagnosis. These are:
Blood tests detect changes in the body produced by inflammation. These tests are:-
Blood tests can also show if you are anaemic and may be used to detect rheumatoid factor – an antibody produced by a reaction in the immune system. However, a diagnosis can’t be based on rheumatoid factor alone.
X-rays will show any damage to the joints or any changes taking place due to the inflammation.
What treatments are available for RA?
Although there is no cure for RA yet, there are treatments available that can slow down the disease and help to keep joint damage to a minimum.