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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints creating inflammation that causes the tissue that lines the inside of joints to thicken, resulting in swelling and pain around the joints.1

Who is affected by rheumatoid arthritis?

More than 400,000 people in the UK have RA. It can affect adults at any age, but most commonly starts between the ages of 40 and 60. It affects roughly two to three times as many women as men.2

What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?1-3

The main symptoms of RA include: 

  • Joint stiffness 
  • Joint pain 
  • Swelling
  • Redness and warmth around the area affected 
  • Reduction in mobility  
  • Appearance of nodules or lumps under the skin 
  • Deformity of joints 
  • General fatigue 

How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?

There is no single test to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors instead arrive at a diagnosis based on the symptoms, physical examination, x-rays, scans and blood tests.3

How is rheumatoid arthritis treated?1-3

As there is currently no cure for RA, treatment goals focus on disease management. Treatment is aimed at

  • Controlling disease progression
  • Providing pain relief and reducing swelling 
  • Preventing joint damage and deformity
  • Maintaining function of the affected joints and preventing disability

Depending on how severe the disease is, several different types of drug therapies may be used alone (monotherapy) or in combination with other drug therapies. Most people with RA need to take more than one medicine, this is because different medicines work in different ways. The main types of medicines used to treat RA are as follows:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Analgesic drugs (painkillers)
  • Steroids
  • Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • Biological therapies

1. Rheumatoid Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/ (last accessed November 2020)

2. What is RA? National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. https://www.nras.org.uk/what-is-ra-article (last accessed November 2020)

3. Rheumatoid Arthritis. What treatments are there for rheumatoid arthritis?  Arthritis Research UK. https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/ (last accessed November 2020)