Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of a group of chronic conditions called autoimmune diseases. In autoimmune disease the immune system does not work as it should. Normally, the immune system protects the body from infection, but in autoimmune disease it attacks the body instead.

In RA the immune system attacks the joints, causing pain, stiffness and inflammation (swelling, warmth and redness). While the joints of the hands and feet are commonly affected, any joint in the body can be involved.

RA treatment can reduce symptoms and slow down disease progression.

Who is affected by rheumatoid arthritis?

No one knows what causes RA, but genetics and environmental factors may be involved.

RA is common, and anyone can get it. RA affects 1 in every 100 adults in industrialised countries, and at least 50 out of every 100 people older than 65 years. RA is more common in women than in men, and tends to start between the ages of 40 and 60.

What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?

The intensity of RA symptoms can vary from mild to severe. There may be periods when these symptoms get better. In other periods they get much worse; these periods are called flares.

The main symptoms of RA are:

  • A throbbing pain, which is often worse in the mornings and after inactivity
  • Stiffness, which may limit ability to flex the joints. Again, this may be worse in the mornings (‘morning stiffness’) and after inactivity
  • Inflammation of the joint lining (‘synovium’), which appears as redness, warmth and swelling around the joints

Other symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue (tiredness and lack of energy)
  • Fever (high temperature)
  • Sweating
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss

Additional information

You can find additional information about RA following these links:

NHS Choices:

National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society:

American College of Rheumatology: