Elderly patient with rheumatoid arthritis in hands

Rheumatoid arthritis

Find out all you need to know about rheumatoid arthritis, its symptoms and treatments.

We often think of arthritis as a single disease, but the term actually covers more than 100 conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, especially the joints. The most common forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis, gout and rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects hundreds of thousands of Australians. The disease attacks a person’s joints, causing swelling, tenderness and pain.

This article looks into the causes of rheumatoid arthritis and takes a closer look at the options available to help treat and manage the condition.

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What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease caused by white blood cells and antibody proteins in your blood attacking your joints instead of fighting off infections.

This results in inflammation, swelling, tenderness and pain in the affected joints, which can eventually wear away the cartilage covering the ends of your bones and erode the bones themselves. The sheaths around tendons can also suffer inflammation due to rheumatoid arthritis, and in rare cases the lungs are affected.

It’s not fully known why people develop rheumatoid arthritis and sufferers can develop the condition at any age. The condition is three times more likely to affect women than men and some people are more genetically predisposed to developing the condition. Factors such as smoking and a number of infections and viruses can trigger rheumatoid arthritis, but investigation into the causes of the condition is continuing.

Rheumatoid arthritis is currently the second most common form of arthritis in Australia and there is no cure.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis can produce a long list of symptoms. The following symptoms are the most common:

The symptoms and their severity vary from person to person. There may also be times when your rheumatoid arthritis is fairly quiet and other times when the condition flares up.

Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis

There are several options available to help you manage and treat your rheumatoid arthritis. The first step is to seek medical advice as soon as you exhibit symptoms. Your doctor will refer you to a specialist (a rheumatologist) who can offer advice and assistance on the best treatment options.

Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, here are some of the ways you can manage the condition:

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Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment is not an endorsement and does not imply its appropriateness for your circumstances. Our information is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional and you should not rely on this general information for diagnosis or answers for your particular circumstances. Instead seek advice from a registered health care professional. This content has been prepared for Australian audiences and was accurate at the time of publication but, over time, the currency and completeness of the published material may change.

Picture: Shutterstock

Tim Falk

A freelance writer with a passion for the written word, Tim loves helping Australians find the right home loans and savings accounts. When he's not chained to a computer, Tim can usually be found exploring the great outdoors.

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