Arthritis is a condition where the cartilage that protects bones gets worn down, so your bones rub against each other. Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation, pain and rigidity in the joints.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of arthritis where the immune system doesn’t work properly and attacks the synovium (tissue lining the joints). This means your synovium gets thick and prevents your joints from moving as they should, which also causes pain.
It mostly affects your wrists, hand and feet but can affect any synovial joint (meaning any joint found between bones that move against each other).
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term condition, however, in the early stages you may not experience many symptoms – perhaps just some pain and sensitivity in the affected area. Smaller joints in the wrists, hands and feet tend to be affected first, before the pain spreads to other joints.
Other symptoms that develop include:
- Affected joint area looks red and swollen
- Difficulty moving the joint
- Pain and stiffness that’s worse in the morning
- Feeling fatigued an/or feverish
The above symptoms can vary in severity – you may sometimes go some time experiencing few or none, but then have a lot of the above symptoms at once (flare-ups) and this can last weeks or months.
You may also experience very mild symptoms, in many cases.
What causes rheumatoid arthritis?
The direct cause of rheumatoid arthritis isn’t clear, but there are certain risk factors that make you more likely to develop the condition:
- Your gender – it’s more common in women than men
- Your genes – if someone in your family has rheumatoid arthritis, you’re more likely to get it
- If you smoke
How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?
Go to see your doctor if you experience the above symptoms. They will ask you about your symptoms and do a physical assessment, seeing how well your joints move and if they’re inflamed.
If it’s believed you have rheumatoid arthritis, you’ll be referred to a doctor who specialises in treating the condition, called a rheumatologist. They will recommend certain blood tests and imaging tests (such as x-ray, ultrasound or MRI scans) to reach a diagnosis.
How is rheumatoid arthritis treated?
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but it can be managed. Your doctor may recommend some (or all) of the following to help you manage the condition:
- Splints or braces to hold joints in place and reduce pain
- Lifestyle changes – including following a healthy diet, with plenty of movement and exercise, and taking certain supplements
- Placing hot and cold ice packs on the joint to relieve pain / taking hot and cold baths
- Over-the-counter medications – such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Balancing activity with rest
- Steroids, either taken orally or through injections to affected joints
- A considerable number of new medications, including biological treatments, such as etanercept and infliximab, or JAK inhibitors
If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.