Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis

11 Sep 2023 | Arthritis

The 11th of September marks the start of Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week, a time to shed light on a chronic condition that affects millions worldwide. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is more than just joint pain—it’s a complex autoimmune disorder that demands our attention, understanding, and support. In this blog post, we’ll explore what RA is, its impact on patients’ lives, treatment options, and the vital role caregivers, relatives, and health professionals play in the journey of those affected by this condition.

Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack healthy joint tissues, resulting in pain, inflammation, and potential joint damage. It’s crucial to distinguish RA from osteoarthritis, which is more commonly associated with joint wear and tear. RA can strike anyone, but certain risk factors, including genetics and environmental triggers, can increase susceptibility.

Signs and Symptoms

While the symptoms can vary from person to person, there are common indicators that individuals should be aware of to seek timely medical attention and effective management.

Joint Pain: Joint pain is one of the hallmark symptoms of RA. The pain is often characterised as aching, throbbing, or sharp, and it tends to be worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity.

Joint Swelling: Inflammation associated with RA can cause swelling and tenderness in the affected joints. The joints may feel warm to the touch and appear visibly swollen.

Joint Stiffness: Stiffness is a common early symptom of RA. People with RA may experience stiffness, especially in the morning or after prolonged rest periods. This can limit their ability to move the affected joints comfortably.

Fatigue: Fatigue is a frequent complaint among individuals with RA. The inflammation and chronic pain associated with the condition can lead to persistent fatigue, impacting daily activities and overall quality of life.

Joint Redness and Warmth: Inflamed joints might appear red and warm due to increased blood flow and immune activity in the affected areas.

Loss of Joint Function: Over time, untreated RA can lead to joint damage and deformities, resulting in loss of joint function and decreased range of motion.

Symmetrical Involvement: RA often symmetrically affects joints on both sides of the body. For example, if a joint in the left hand is affected, the same joint in the right hand is likely also affected.

Other Symptoms: RA is a systemic disease, meaning it can affect the entire body. Other symptoms may include low-grade fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, and general malaise.

Early Diagnosis and Management:

Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for effectively managing RA and preventing joint damage. Rheumatologists are specialists in diagnosing and treating autoimmune conditions like RA. They typically use a combination of approaches to diagnose RA:

Physical Examination: Rheumatologists examine the affected joints for signs of inflammation, swelling, and tenderness.

Blood Tests: Blood tests, including rheumatoid factor (RF) and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibody tests, can help confirm the diagnosis and assess the severity of the disease.

Imaging: X-rays and other imaging tests can reveal joint damage, inflammation, and changes over time.

Medical History: Information about the patient’s symptoms, their duration, and family history of autoimmune diseases is vital in making an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment and Lifestyle Management

Treatment for RA aims to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, prevent joint damage, and improve overall quality of life. Treatment plans may include:

Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biologic agents are commonly prescribed to manage RA.

Physical Therapy: Physical therapy can help maintain joint function, improve mobility, and strengthen muscles around affected joints.

Lifestyle Changes: A healthy lifestyle involving regular exercise, a balanced diet, stress management, and adequate rest can play a significant role in managing RA symptoms.

Pain Management: Pain relief strategies, including heat/cold therapy and assistive devices, can provide comfort and improve joint function.

Impact on Patients’ Lives

Living with rheumatoid arthritis is a daily challenge that extends beyond physical discomfort. The unpredictability of symptoms, chronic pain, and limitations on mobility can take a toll on mental and emotional well-being. Patients might experience frustration, anxiety, and depression. Family and carers must recognise the impact of RA beyond the physical and offer support that extends beyond medical treatments.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week: How to Get Involved:

Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week is a time to unite, educate, and advocate. As caregivers, relatives, or health professionals, you can play a significant role in raising awareness about RA. Use relevant hashtags to engage on social media by sharing information, personal stories, and resources. Participate in local awareness events, workshops, and seminars to learn more about the condition and show your support.

Eximius Support

Are some day-to-day tasks starting to feel overwhelming to you or a loved one? Or maybe you don’t have many friends or relatives nearby that you can ask for help. Depending on your needs, Eximius has a range of support available, from daily check-ins to 24/7 live-in support. If you’d like to know more about our support, we’d love to hear from you

Additional Resources:

Remember that learning is an ongoing process. If you’re seeking more information, support, or resources related to rheumatoid arthritis, here are some reputable organisations you can turn to:

National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS)

The British Society for Rheumatology (BSR) 

NHS Choices – Arthritis

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