Symptoms of RA include painful, stiff joints, and fatigue (which is more than just normal tiredness). RA is a systemic disease, which means it affects the whole body, and it can affect other organs such as the lungs, heart and eyes.

Incidence: (RA) is the second most common form of arthritis and the most common inflammatory joint disorder, estimates vary between 400,000 and 600,000 people affected in the UK.  Women are about three times more likely to be affected than men.

Cause: RA is an inflammatory, autoimmune arthritis. Inflammation is a part of the body’s healing process - a defence against bacteria, viruses and physical damage. However in RA the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues:  in joints when the synovial lining is attacked it becomes inflamed and painful, eventually the cartilage and underlying bone are damaged. Although hands and feet are often affected first, it can start in any joint.

Treatment: Although there is still no ‘cure’ for RA, the outlook for patients is much more positive than previously: there are now disease modifying drugs (DMARDS and Biologicals) which reduce the immune attack and help control the disease over a long period, as well as steroid drugs and other anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the inflammation, and standard pain-killers to reduce the pain.

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Progression: The symptoms of RA can vary: flaring up, and then calming down. It affects people differently so it’s difficult to predict how it might develop. One study showed:

- 75% continue with flare-ups,

- 20% always have mild RA,

- 5% develop the severe type.