As a consultant rheumatologist, Dr Stephanie Barrett treats many people with rheumatoid arthritis on a regular basis. This blog is packed full of advice and guidance for anyone living with the condition, but this post is about going back to basics, a sort of beginner’s guide to the condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition which is mainly characterised by joint inflammation. This inflammation can lead to severe joint damage, deformity and even long-term disability if not treated effectively.
Who does Rheumatoid Arthritis affect?
Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any body at any age, but it is most common in people aged between 50 and 75. Women are affect up to three times more than men and it has a prevalence of around 1% in Caucasians and 0.1% to 5% in other ethnic groups.
Research has yet to discover what causes the condition. However there are certain gene markers which make it more likely in some individuals. Smoking and obesity may be risk factors in developing the condition.
What are the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
People seeking diagnosis for this condition usually present symmetrical joint pain and swelling. They often also experience stiffness in the mornings. Small joints such as those in the hands and wrists are more commonly affected than larger joints.
Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis
It is usually diagnosed on the presentation of the symptoms mentioned. Blood tests and other testing may also be carried out in an attempt to find a positive rheumatoid arthritis factor. It is worth noting that false positives are quite common so it may take a range of diagnostic tests before you have a confirmed diagnosis.
How is Rheumatoid Arthritis treated?
Treatment usually combines a number of drug therapies and other options. Mild to moderate conditions can be managed with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories as well as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic inflammatories. When the disease is severe then biologic agents such as anti-tumour necrosis factor inhibitors may be used too.
Additional therapies such as occupational therapy, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy may be recommended too.
Some patients should also make lifestyle changes. Decisions such as giving up smoking and dietary changes can significantly relieve pain and other symptoms.