Rheumatoid Arthritis: Help & advice

This article has been kindly created by our friends at NRAS

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the second most common form of arthritis. It is frequently confused with the most common form, osteoarthritis (wear and tear) but is a completely different condition and affects more than 400,000 adults in the UK. RA is a complex, painful, autoimmune disease where the body’s own immune system attacks the lining of the joints, causing inflammation leading to pain, swelling and stiffness which can cause destruction of the joint and ultimately bone erosion if left untreated. Fatigue is also a very common and debilitating symptom of RA. RA can also affect internal organs such as the heart, lungs, and eyes. Women are 3 times more likely than men to suffer from the condition, which often starts between the ages of 40 and 60 although it can develop at any age.

Treatment includes painkillers and anti-inflammatories, to help control symptoms together with disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to slow down the progression of the disease. Self-management is very important in any long term condition, find out more about this from the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (see below).

Who is there to help?

If you suspect that you may have RA or your child may have JIA, your GP is the first port of call. If they suspect that the symptoms may indicate RA or JIA, they may do a blood test first but in either case, should refer you as a matter of urgency, to a consultant rheumatologist (in the case of RA) or a paediatric rheumatologist or a paediatrician (in the case of a child with JIA) at the hospital, who will make the diagnosis. Modern drugs have had an amazing impact on RA and JIA, but it can take time to find the right combination of drugs for the individual person.

Rheumatology specialist nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dieticians and podiatrists are among the many healthcare professionals who may be involved in your care. Exercise is important, as it helps to strengthen the muscles which protects the joint and improve range of movement to relieve stiffness and maintain function.

Sometimes certain activities of daily living can become difficult as a result of the joint problems, for example the ability to dress or open bottles and jars, use everyday appliances and equipment. Occupational Therapists have been trained to help people minimize the impact of mobility issues and maximise your independence.

The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) is the only national patient organization specializing in rheumatoid arthritis and childhood forms of arthritis, known collectively as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Details of their helpline can be found in the back of this booklet and they are trained to help with all aspects of living with these conditions. NRAS provides wide ranging support and resources in different formats to suit individual preference. You can find out more at www.nras.org.uk and www.jia.org.uk

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