What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that causes joint pain, swelling and morning stiffness. It affects women 3:1 times more often than men. If untreated, it can lead to permanent joint damage. The distribution of joints involved usually allows us to decide what type of inflammatory arthritis it is.
Rheumatoid arthritis is probably the commonest cause of inflammatory arthritis in the UK. It affects young people in their 30s and 50s. For those with the condition, the small joints of the hands and the feet become painful and swollen.
Early diagnosis is really important, as this allows us to get you on the right medication, which will get rid of the inflammation and prevent damage to your joints. The longer you have inflammation in the joints, the more damage occurs – and once this damage occurs, we cannot repair it. We’ll therefore get you on some medication that will prevent damage as quickly as possible, with our treatment goal being remission.
People with rheumatoid arthritis report stiffness in the morning, lasting up to an hour. It’s very important to treat this condition as early as possible. If it is untreated, it can lead to permanent joint damage. If it’s progressive and the joints are damaged, joint replacement surgery may be required.
With early identification and initiation of drug treatment, we can often put patients into remission. That means you can take medicines and drugs, and in time, the condition will be controlled.
When I see patients, they will have a consultation with me. I’ll take a history, examine you and usually take some blood tests and X-Rays on the same day.
I may start you on some treatment, which will usually get rid of some of the inflammation on the same day. That’s either an injection or some tablets, and then you would come back in a week or two to make sure you’re tolerating the tablets.
Most patients can expect a good response to medical treatment. Only a small percentage of patients are in a situation where the inflammation cannot be controlled; we can treat most people with synthetic disease modifying drugs.
If conventional treatments don’t work, we have biologic therapies. We probably now have a third of patients who have got progressive disease now who are on new drugs. For them, we can use biological targeted therapies that have been around since 2001.