The inflammatory arthritis pathway
Inflammatory arthritis is a term used to describe a group of conditions which affect your immune system. This means that your body’s defence system starts attacking your own tissues instead of germs, viruses and other foreign substances, which can cause pain, stiffness and joint damage. They’re also known as autoimmune diseases. The three most common forms of inflammatory arthritis are:
These conditions are also called systemic diseases because they can affect your whole body. They can happen at any age.
There’s no cure for these diseases at the moment, but the outlook for those diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis is significantly better than it was 20–30 years ago. Effective treatment begins much earlier and new drugs are available, which means less joint damage, less need for surgery and fewer complications.
Inflammatory arthritis isn’t the same as osteoarthritis, which happens when the cartilage in your joint wears away.
The inflammatory arthritis pathway is a guide to what information is available and might be useful for you at every key stage of your journey, from first noticing symptoms to specialist care if the disease progresses. The pathway directs you to organisations and information sources relevant at each step.
At Step 1 you may be experiencing joint pain and/or back pain but haven’t yet visited your GP about your symptoms.
At Step 2 you'll visit your doctor for the first time. This section includes sources of information on controlling your symptoms and other information you'll find useful while waiting for a specialist appointment.
At Step 3 you'll see your specialist (most likely a consultant rheumatologist) for the first time.
At Step 4 you'll get your initial diagnosis and look at suitable treatments with your specialist team.
At Step 5 you'll start treatment. You'll probably see your specialist team quite regularly to begin with to check how you're getting on.
Step 6 is advanced disease, which may have complications but this will only affect a small number of people.
This section explains some of the terms your healthcare team may use which you might not be familiar with.