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Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes stiffness and swelling in the joints. It can be very painful, and it can cause serious damage to the affected joints if it is left untreated. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system begins producing antibodies, the weapons it normally uses to beat infections, that mistakenly attack the tissue covering the joints. This results in pain, inflammation and joint damage. The reason why it happens is not yet fully understood, but it usually begins in people who are in their forties, and it is more common in women than in men. People who smoke or who have a family history of rheumatoid arthritis may also be more likely to develop the condition.

Common Symptoms

The most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are stiffness, throbbing pain and swelling, warmth and redness in the joints. These symptoms most often occur in the joints of the hands, wrists and feet, usually on both sides of the body at the same time, but other parts of the body can be affected too. Some people also experience other symptoms, including a high temperature, reduced appetite, and lack of energy.

It is common for the severity of the symptoms to change over time. The pain and swelling may suddenly and unpredictably worsen. This is often known as a flare up.

If you have been experiencing these types of symptoms, you should make an appointment with your GP, who will recommend that you see a specialist if they suspect you have rheumatoid arthritis. The rheumatologist will ask about your symptoms and take a closer look at the affected joints.

Tests & Diagnosis

Blood tests and scans may also be needed to rule out other conditions and ensure that you get the right diagnosis. Seeing your doctor as soon as possible is important if you suspect that you might have rheumatoid arthritis, since the earlier treatment can be started, the more effective it will be in preventing the condition from getting worse.

Rheumatoid arthritis cannot be cured, but treatment can help to protect the joints against the long-term damage that rheumatoid arthritis can cause. It can also reduce the frequency of flare-ups, sometimes enabling patients to enjoy months or even years free from their symptoms.

This may be achieved using medication such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or biological treatments. Painkillers may also be prescribed to relieve the symptoms, along with exercise and lifestyle changes to help protect the joints. Physiotherapists, podiatrists and occupational therapists are often called in to help with treatment, and in some cases, surgery may be needed to help repair joints that have been severely damaged.

Even when the condition has been caught early, it is still important for patients to be closely monitored to check how well the treatments are working. Doctors also need to keep an eye out for possible complications, such as inflammation in other parts of the body, which might causes symptoms such as chest pain or dry eyes, and other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, that can affect people with rheumatoid arthritis.

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