What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Elderly woman suffering from pain From Rheumatoid Arthritis
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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that produces pain, swelling and stiffness in joints. It is worst in the feet, wrists and hands. It belongs in a class of arthritic conditions, including osteoarthritis.

As with other inflammatory conditions there is often a flare-up.

The flare-ups are difficult to predict. Treatment can decrease the frequency of these flare-ups and minimise the damage to joints.

The Nature Of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a common autoimmune disease. It is in fact one of the most common causes of chronic inflammatory joint disease.

It is linked to increasing levels of disability with increase with time. It is also associated with an early death and there are many socioeconomic costs in care and treatment.

RA is characterized by synovial inflammation followed by cartilage and bone erosion (Choy, 2012). Most patients suffer reduced functional mobility, plenty of pain and stiffness. It can seriously impair the quality of life (Matcham et al., 2014).

It’s typical features are:

  • morning stiffness
  • various forms of polyarthritis and tenosynovitis that are symmetrical. That means it affects both hands or feet.
  • a rise in the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
  • a general feeling of being unwell
  • fever – sometimes
  • loss of mobility
  • general weakness
  • weight loss

The disease affects between 0.5% and 1.0% of all people in a Western population. It is 2.5 times as likely in women as in men (Minichiello et al., 2016).

Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The causes of rheumatoid arthritis are unknown. There is a genetic aspects to it – there is good evidence it is hereditary. Some infections and environmental factors trigger the immune system to attack the tissues of the body. This results in inflammation of the lungs and eyes as well as joints. 

The Risk Factors

Most health authorities agree on the following that a higher risk of developing RA is:-

  • being over 60
  • female
  • hereditary occurrence
  • being obese
  • smoking 

There is a higher risk of diabetes and high blood pressure if you have RA and are obese.


Choy, E. (2012). Understanding the dynamics: pathways involved in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology51(suppl_5), v3-v11 (Article).

Matcham, F., Scott, I. C., Rayner, L., Hotopf, M., Kingsley, G. H., Norton, S., … & Steer, S. (2014, October). The impact of rheumatoid arthritis on quality-of-life assessed using the SF-36: a systematic review and meta-analysis. In Seminars in arthritis and rheumatism (Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 123-130). WB Saunders  (Article)

Minichiello, E., Semerano, L., & Boissier, M. C. (2016). Time trends in the incidence, prevalence, and severity of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic literature review. Joint Bone Spine83(6), pp. 625-630. (Article

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