Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease which affects the synovial joints mainly of the hands and feet, but can affect any synovial joint. The cause is multifactorial, and RA is more likely to affect women than men (approx 3:1).
It can affect any age group but is more common in middle age, after the age of 40.1 Patients living with rheumatoid arthritis experience painful, swollen joints associated with stiffness, especially first thing in the morning. RA may also be associated with systemic symptoms including fatigue, anaemia and weight loss.
Other systemic manifestations may affect the heart, lungs and skin. Patients may experience periods of remission and flare of their symptoms. Long-term disease can result in damage and deformity of the joints accompanied by reduction in function. RA impacts on all areas of a patient's life, including their mood, relationships, work and leisure activities.2
Diagnosis of RA
Patients may present with symptoms ranging from generalised joint pains to a more specific history of multiple painful swollen joints accompanied by joint stiffness. Morning stiffness may last for a few minutes to several hours in active disease.