Dealing with the pain and uncertainty of rheumatoid arthritis can be a challenge. And a smile won’t fix everything. But the more positive you are, the easier it will be to take good care of yourself

Facts on Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

  • About 1% of the population in the UK has RA – approximately 690,000 people in the UK.
  • Adults with arthritis are about 2.5 times more likely to have two or more falls and suffer a fall injury in the past 12 months compared with adults without arthritis.
  • It affects more women than men, around two to three times as many women.
  • The most common age for people to develop RA is between 40 and 60, or a little older for men. However, people can get it at any age, even from the age of 14 when it’s classed as ‘early onset’ RA.
  • If RA is not treated or is inadequately treated, it can cause irreversible damage to joints and lead to disability.

How is RA different to osteoarthritis?

If you say ‘arthritis’ most people assume you’re talking about a condition that relates to the older generation with wear and tear on the joints, that’s osteoarthritis.  RA, is very different in that it is a disease of the autoimmune system. The immune system defends your body against infection. However, with RA the immune system becomes overactive attacking the body as opposed to defending it. With Rheumatoid Arthritis, your immune system attacks the lining of your joints which is the synovial lining.  This causes inflammation, which leads to pain and stiffness in the joints. RA is a symmetrical arthritis, meaning that it usually affects both sides of the body but this is not always the case. Generally the disease attacks the small joints of the hands and feet first – often the knuckle joints in the fingers.  In addition other internal organs such as the lungs, heart and eyes can be affected. People with RA often have chronic swelling and pain which can be severe as a result sometimes leading to disability. RA will often damage joints within two years after onset and will eventually affect larger joints, such as hips, shoulders.

Symptoms in addition to joint pain and swelling often include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pain and stiffness for longer than 30 minutes in the morning or after sitting
  • Weight loss

Treatment for RA

There is a lot of research into RA worldwide, with new drugs in the pipeline. The way in which treatment is delivered is also more targeted and effective as was in the past. It is all the more important to get an early diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible.

There is a variety of effective treatments available including:

  • Physical therapies
  • Drugs
  • Surgery

Ways to help yourself

  • Keep at a healthy weight to avoid undue stress on joints.
  • People with RA can have an increased risk of heart disease and strokes in later life. It’s very important to follow a good, balanced diet and one that reduces your cholesterol level if possible.
  • Pace yourself to avoid over tiring this will help to control RA.
  • It is equally important to remain as physically active as possible as there is evidence that light exercise can help to reduce pain.
  • Smoking can increase the effects of RA.

Arthritis may not be something you signed up for. But life doesn’t have to be any less sweet just because you have it. Staying positive about your situation and maintaining a proactive approach to managing your symptoms will take you far. In addition there are numerous aids on the market to assist with daily living and mobility issues.