Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints.
The hands, feet and wrists are commonly affected, but it can also cause problems in other parts of the body.
There may be periods where your symptoms become worse, known as a flare-up or flare. A flare can be difficult to predict, but with treatment it is possible to decrease the number of flares and minimise or prevent long-term damage to the joints.
You should see your GP if you think you have symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, so your GP can try to identify the underlying cause.
Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis quickly is important because early treatment can help stop the condition getting worse and reduce the risk of further problems such as joint damage.
Read more about diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that your immune system – which usually fights infection – attacks the cells that line your joints by mistake, making them swollen, stiff and painful.
Over time, this can damage the joint itself, the cartilage and nearby bone.
It's not clear what triggers this problem with the immune system, although you are at an increased risk if you are a woman, you have a family history of rheumatoid arthritis, or you smoke.
Read more about the causes of rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects around 400,000 people in the UK.
It can affect adults at any age, but most commonly starts between the ages of 40 and 50. About three times as many women as men are affected.
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but early diagnosis and appropriate treatment enables many people with rheumatoid arthritis to have periods of months or even years between flares and to be able to lead full lives and continue regular employment.
The main treatment options include:
Read more about treating rheumatoid arthritis.
Having rheumatoid arthritis can lead to several other conditions that may cause additional symptoms and can sometimes be life-threatening.
Ensuring that rheumatoid arthritis is well controlled helps reduce your risk of complications such as these.
Read more about the complications of rheumatoid arthritis.
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