What you should know about rheumatoid arthritis

This year’s Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week runs from June 18 – 24, 2018. So if you don’t know much about this disabling condition, now is a good time to find out more.

According to the Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, the condition affects about one per cent of the UK population – which is about 400,000 people. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of any age. Around three quarters of people with the condition are first diagnosed when they are of working age, with women being three times as likely as men to have the disease.

However rheumatoid arthritis is not the same as osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is often described as a condition caused by wear and tear on the joints, which explains why many older people are affected by it. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune condition, which means the symptoms are caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the lining of the joints.

This can cause inflammation, which leads to symptoms such as pain and stiffness. And many joints can be affected – though other parts of your body can be affected too, including the lungs, heart and eyes.

If you have rheumatoid arthritis you may have one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Pain, swelling and often also redness around the joints (often initially in the hands and feet)
  • Joint stiffness on getting out of bed in the morning or after a period of inactivity
  • Extreme fatigue that’s more than just normal tiredness

Other symptoms can include fever and muscle pain, and some people with rheumatoid arthritis can feel low, sad or depressed.

If you think you may be affected, see your GP as it’s important to have treatment if it turns out that you do have rheumatoid arthritis. That’s because rheumatoid arthritis can lead to other conditions and increase your risk of heart attack and strokes if you don’t manage it effectively. Rheumatoid arthritis is treated with medication to relieve the symptoms and slow the condition’s progress as well as supportive treatments such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

Living with rheumatoid arthritis

Besides medication and supporting therapies there are things you can do yourself to help keep your condition under control if you have rheumatoid arthritis.

Eat healthily If you’re overweight it can put extra strain on your joints, which can make the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis worse. A healthy diet, however, can help you lose pounds and maintain a healthy weight.

Exercise regularly According to the NHS this can help relieve stress, help keep your joints mobile and strengthen the muscles supporting your joints. It can also be helpful if you have some weight to lose. Try activities that put less strain on your joints such as swimming, walking, cycling and aqua aerobics.

Learn how to relax Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises may help with pain control.

Talk about it If you need advice, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society has a free helpline – call 0800 298 7650 to speak to an adviser. You may also find it helpful to talk to other people who are going through a similar situation to yourself. If you don’t have a local support group where you live, you could talk about your condition with other people online – try the Health Unlocked National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society forum.

If you have a condition that causes pain, your local Careway pharmacist has lots of advice on how to manage it. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.