What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common inflammatory disease of the joints. It is characterised by pain and swelling of both the small and large joints (mainly in the fingers, wrists and feet) accompanied by stiffness in the mornings and symptoms such as fatigue and weakness. It affects 1% of the world's adult population. It is more frequent among women, and it is most common between the ages of 30 and 50, although it can appear at any time of life.

Rheumatoid Arthritis explained in first person

Professionals and patients explain how you live with the disease
In rheumatoid arthritis, the synovium lining the inside of the joint capsule becomes inflamed. This is different from osteoarthritis in that cartilage wear occurs rather than inflammation.
My symptoms started at the age of 12, as far as can I remember. I couldn't move, everything hurt a lot, especially my hands and feet, and I was inexplicably exhausted.

The AR symptoms are usually worse first thing in the morning and there are sometimes other non-joint-related symptoms, such as dry mucous membranes, breathing difficulties, or subcutaneous nodules, among other things. There may be periods when the symptoms get worse; these are known as flare-ups. Flare-ups may be difficult to predict, but with treatment it is possible to reduce the number of these and minimise or prevent long-term joint damage.   

How many people does it affect?

It is estimated that about 1% of the world's adult population may have rheumatoid arthritis. It is more frequent among women (for each three women affected there is only one man), and it is most common between the ages of 30 and 50, although it can appear at any time of life. It is important to differentiate between rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which is a form of inflammatory arthritis that appears in childhood and adolescence and can sometimes persist into adulthood.   

Substantiated information by:

José Alfredo Gómez Puerta
Marta Bassas
Núria Sapena
Raimon Sanmartí Sala

Published: 21 January 2021
Updated: 21 January 2021

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