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
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.
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
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
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.