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There are over 200 types of rheumatic disease and over nine million people in the UK have some form of arthritis. Arthritis means inflammation of the joints. Most people with arthritis will experience pain and some difficulty in moving around.

Arthritis affects people of all ages, including children. It is not clear what causes it and there is no cure at present. However, treatment can largely alleviate the symptoms and enable people to continue to live an active life, although some modifications may be necessary.

Rheumatic Conditions FAQs

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Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease, mainly affecting joints and tendons. Inflamed joints may become swollen, red and warm. The disease usually starts in the wrists, hands or feet, and can spread to other joints and other parts of the body. There is no cure, but symptoms can usually be treated effectively. RA may develop at any age, but it is most common in women between the ages of 30 and 50 years. The cause is unknown.

RA is an auto-immune disease in which the immune system starts to attack the body instead of defending it. This causes inflammation of the synovial membrane (the lining of the joints), the tendon sheaths (tubes in which the tendons move) and the bursae (sacs of fluid that allow the muscles and tendons to move smoothly over each other). This results in pain, swelling and stiffness of the joints and inflamed tissues.

RA is characterised by flares, when the disease is active, and periods of remission. During a flare you may feel generally unwell and tired, and have pain and loss of strength and movement in inflamed joints. Your joints may feel stiff, especially first thing in the morning, or after sitting still for a long time. You may feel frustrated at times, particularly during a flare up, however most people are able to carry on as normal, with some adjustments to their lifestyle.

The main aims of treatment are to reduce pain and inflammation and slow down the disease process. Different kinds of drugs may be used, including disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), immunosuppressants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids (in cases of severe inflammation). Biologic therapies may also be used in severe, uncontrolled disease. You may need to have regular blood tests to enable the rheumatology team to monitor the effects of these drugs.

Joint replacement surgery may be considered if a joint is particularly painful or if there is a risk of losing overall function.

Information about the Rheumatoid Arthritis Group which meets at Ipswich Hospital.

Information from the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society