Rheumatoid Arthritis

Definition

This is an auto-immune disease which causes inflammation, pain and swelling in the joints. This may evolve into a chronic condition with deformity of the joints leading to loss of function and mobility if not adequately treated. The illness is systemic which means it can affect other organs such as the skin, lungs, heart, blood vessels and kidneys. This disease is different from osteoarthritis which is wear and tear in the joint and reduced cartilage. Osteoarthritis affects everybody and is primarily caused by longevity. However the two diseases may co-exist and damage or deformity caused by rheumatoid arthritis may accelerate osteoarthritis. There are about 600,000 people in the United Kingdom who are affected by rheumatoid arthritis. 
 

What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?

Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include joint pain, swelling, the latter is commonly in the hands and the feet but any other joint can be affected. Early morning stiffness is a frequent feature of rheumatoid arthritis in addition to fatigue, anaemia, flu like symptoms and depression. Less frequent symptoms include weight loss, grittiness in the eyes and formation of lumps, or what is called rheumatoid nodules around joints. As mentioned above other organs can be affected causing their own symptoms and signs. 
 

Cause and Diagnosis

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis as in all other auto-immune disease is not known. There is a membrane that lines most of our joints called synovium . This membrane (synovium) becomes inflamed and increases in size. This is the reason of the swelling, pain and heat in the joints (inflamed joints). However we do not know what triggers this inflammation. The illness may run in families. The diagnosis is usually made by a specialist after listening to your history and examining you. Investigations such as blood tests, X-rays and ultrasound are supportive to the diagnosis, and help in planning appropriate treatment.
 
There are other illnesses and conditions that may mimic rheumatoid arthritis, furthermore many other unrelated illnesses can cause joint pain therefore your doctor is the best person to discuss your symptoms and advise.
 

Management

There has been a huge advance in the management of rheumatoid in the past ten years. We have very potent medications that can control the disease, prevent joint deformity and normalise the quality of life. However many of these medications need regular monitoring by your doctor since they may have some side effects.
 
Physical therapy, management of flare ups, diet, surgery, aids and gadgets all input in the holistic approach of managing rheumatoid arthritis.
 
Research and new developments are ongoing with many organisations that are able to provide additional information and support. 
 

Other Information

 
Arthritis Research UK
Copeman House,
St. Mary’s Gate
Chesterfield
Derbyshire
S41 7TD
 
 
Arthritis Care
Floor 4,
Linen Court,
10 East Road
London 
N1 6AD
 
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS)
Ground floor,
4 The Switchback,
Gardner Road,
Maidenhead 
Berks
SL6 7RJ