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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition causing pain and swelling especially in the hands and second joints and also wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, feet and shoulders (given rise to upper back pain).  Generally the symptoms of arthritis pain can appear between the ages of 30 to 60. Women are also three times as likely to develop arthritis.  Although the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis isn’t fully understood, it does seem that it is an autoimmune disease.  Put simply, the body’s immune system which should fight infection, attack the cells within the joints causing inflammation and pain.

There is some evidence that arthritis can run in the family, but this is not conclusive.  Again some theories suggest that an infection or a virus can trigger rheumatoid arthritis, but as yet none of this has been proven.

Rheumatoid Arthritis in joints

How to spot rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

Painful and swollen joints such as fingers and toes are normally the first indication of the onset of arthritis, although the shoulders and knees may be affected early too. The pain is normally a throbbing ache in the joints and can be worse in the morning or after a long period of inactivity.

Stiffness in the joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis can last for more than an hour in the morning, whereas if the pain and stiffness wears off within 30 minutes, then this is more likely to be osteoarthritis.
Cells inside the joints become red and inflamed creating redness on the skin which is sore to touch.  Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause swelling around the joints creating rheumatoid nodules.  The condition can also cause inflammation of your tear glands, salivary glands, the lining of your heart and lungs, and your blood vessels.

Flare-ups are when the condition suddenly worsens and can happen at any time of day or night. The symptoms will be more severe than usual.

How to treat rheumatoid arthritis

Good treatment of rheumatoid arthritis should relieve pain and swelling and slow down the damage to the joints.  It is also beneficial to lead an active a life as possible through support, lifestyle changes and non drug treatments if possible.  Drug treatments for arthritis differ between individuals so it may take you and your GP or health practitioner some time to find the best course of action for you.  

Painkillers such as paracetamol or codeine may be needed although these will not reduce the arthritis inflammation.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) can be prescribed to reduce pain and swelling in the joints but these will not slow the progression of the disease.  Also if your GP prescribes an NSAID then you will almost certainly have to take another medicine, such as a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). Taking a PPI reduces the amount of acid in your stomach, which greatly reduces the risk of damage to your stomach lining caused by the NSAID.

Corticosteroids help reduce pain, stiffness and swelling however they are only used short term and have serious side effects such as weight gain, osteoporosis, easy bruising, muscle weakness and thinning of the skin.

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) ease symptoms and slow down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. When antibodies attack the joint tissue, they produce chemicals that can cause further damage to the bones, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. DMARDs work by blocking the effects of these chemicals.