Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease of the joints that can cause a disabling degree of pain and significantly interfere with an individual’s day-to-day living.
RA is an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system, which is usually geared up to fight infection, attacks the lining of the joints, causing them to swell and become stiff and painful. Eventually, the joint itself can become damaged as well as the cartilage and surrounding bone. Any joint can be affected but most commonly the illness involves the hands, feet and wrists.
The condition is more common among women than men and usually affects people between the ages of 40 and 70, although it can affect people of any age.
Symptoms range from mild to severe and can flare-up suddenly and unpredictably, making the condition very difficult to live with.
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not yet fully understood but some research suggests that viruses and bacteria may be involved. RA cannot be cured but early diagnosis and treatment can help to manage symptoms and prevent disability.