Rheumatoid Arthritis - Overview



Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory condition, meaning that it is life-long and not curable. This condition causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. RA usually affects the hands, feet and wrists. This disease is classified as an autoimmune disease - the body itself attacks the cartilage of the bone and causes damage.


This can be a very debilitating disease and can affect your quality of life. Treatment plays a key role in controlling the inflammation and in reducing joint damage. Treatment usually comprises of a combination of drugs, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. The treatment of RA must be personalized to each person's situation, including the severity of the condition, the effectiveness of specific therapies and the presence of any side effects.



RA typically affects certain joints in the body, including the wrists and joints of the hands and feet. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are inflammatory which means that the joints get red, swollen and very painful. These symptoms happen during times known as flares or flare ups. Other times the symptoms disappear completely. This is  known as periods of remission.


In addition to joint involvement, RA can also cause symptoms in many other parts of the body. This includes the eyes, kidneys, lungs and heart. In order to prevent or delay damage to these organs, treatment should be started as early as possible. It is also important for you to follow  your treatment plan as prescribed and avoid missing doses or stopping your medication.


Symptoms can vary from mild to severe. It’s important not to ignore your symptoms, even if they come and go. Knowing the early signs of RA may assist with treatment and better management of the condition.


It can be a very frustrating disease because of its waxing and waning. Strict adherence to the treatment will ensure less flare ups and a better outcome. 




Written by Dr Ruusa Shivute | Health Window

Reference: Scott DL, Wolfe F, Huizinga TW. Rheumatoid arthritis. Lancet. 2010 Sep 25;376(9746):1094-108.

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