Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that causes pain and swelling in the joints. Hands, feet and wrists are commonly affected, but it can also damage other parts of the body. Currently, rheumatoid arthritis cannot be prevented as the exact trigger of the condition is unknown.
What are the symptoms?
Rheumatoid arthritis can make your joints swell, feel stiff and leave you feeling generally unwell and tired. Symptoms usually vary over time, and range from mild to severe. The condition can sometimes be very painful, making movement and everyday tasks difficult. When symptoms become worse, this is known as a flare-up or flare. A flare is impossible to predict, making rheumatoid arthritis difficult to live with.
Have I got Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Have you got the ‘S’ Factor?
- Stiffness – early morning joint stiffness lasting more than 30 minutes
- Swelling – persistent swelling of one joint or more, especially hand joints
- Squeezing – squeezing the joints is painful in inflammatory arthritis
If you have any of these S’s it’s possible that you may have early rheumatoid arthritis so it is essential that you see your GP as soon as possible. Don’t delay.
Follow the link for a video which tells you why early diagnosis is so important:
Who is affected?
The condition is estimated to affect over 580,000 people in England and Wales and occurs more frequently in women than men. It is most common between the ages of 40 and 70, but can affect people of any age including children.
Why does it happen?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Normally, your immune system makes antibodies that attack bacteria and viruses, helping protect your body against infection. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system sends antibodies to the lining of your joints, where instead of attacking harmful bacteria, they attack the tissue surrounding the joint. Over time, this can damage the joint itself, the cartilage and nearby bone.
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. We know how the condition attacks the joints, but it is not yet known what triggers the initial attack. It is thought that viruses and bacteria may be involved but research is not yet conclusive.
There is some evidence that rheumatoid arthritis can run in families and genes may be one factor in the cause of the condition. However, having a family member with rheumatoid arthritis does not necessarily mean you will inherit the condition. Genes only explain part of the risk. For example the identical twin of someone with rheumatoid arthritis only has a one in five chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis too.
Rheumatoid arthritis is three times more common in women than in men. It is thought that this may be due to the effects of oestrogen (a female hormone) and that this hormone may be involved in the development and progression of the condition. However, this has not been conclusively proven.
Although not a direct cause of rheumatoid arthritis, there is some evidence to show smokers are more likely to develop the condition. People who regularly drink more than the recommended maximum daily limit of alcohol are also at higher risk. For more information on drinking and alcohol see: