Rheumatoid arthritis

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What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in your joints. The main symptoms are joint pain and swelling. It’s the second most common form of arthritis in the UK.

What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?

Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
  • painful, swollen joints
  • stiffness
  • tiredness (fatigue), depression and irritability
  • anaemia
  • flu-like symptoms, such as feeling generally ill, feeling hot and sweating.

Less common symptoms include:

  • weight loss
  • eye inflammation
  • rheumatoid nodules
  • inflammation of other parts of your body.

What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means your immune system starts attacking your body's own tissues, causing inflammation. It affects around 400,000 people in the UK.

What is the outlook for rheumatoid arthritis?

The outlook varies between different people with rheumatoid arthritis:
  • 75% of people will continue having some joint pain, swelling and flare-ups.
  • 20% will always have very mild rheumatoid arthritis.
  • 5% will develop severe disease with extensive disability.

How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?

No single test can give a definite diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in the early stages of the condition. Doctors have to arrive at a diagnosis based on your symptoms, a physical examination and the results of x-rays, scans and blood tests.

What treatments are there for rheumatoid arthritis?

Although there’s no cure for rheumatoid arthritis yet, a variety of treatments are available that can slow down the condition and keep joint damage to a minimum. The earlier you start treatment, the more effective it’s likely to be.

Self-help and daily living for rheumatoid arthritis

Try the following self-help tips for rheumatoid arthritis:
  • Strike a balance between rest and exercise.
  • Eat a balanced diet and keep to a healthy weight.
  • Protect your joints from unnecessary strain.
  • Get a good night’s sleep to help with fatigue.
  • Learn about your condition.

Research and new developments for rheumatoid arthritis

Research has given us a better understanding about the process of inflammation, and this has led to better forms of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

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The inflammatory arthritis pathway

A useful guide for every stage of your journey, from first noticing symptoms to receiving specialist care.