Rheumatoid Arthritis: what are the symptoms and what is it like to live with
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an auto-immune condition that can cause pain, swelling and stiffness in joints.
Statistics from the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society states that approximately one in 100 people have it.
Joanne Dique, 52, was diagnosed with RA in February 2020.
She first experienced pains and swelling in her fingers in the summer of 2018, but as she didn’t have a rheumatoid factor in her blood tests just a small rise of inflammation she wasn’t initially diagnosed.
She said: “Rheumatoid arthritis is one of those totally misunderstood invisible diseases common misconceptions are it’s just arthritis associated with old age. In fact children get it too.
“No it’s not it’s an autoimmune disease when your immune system attacks itself and not just bones and usually systematic on both sides of your body at same time it can affect any of your organs where as osteoarthritis is your bones through wear and tear.”
Ailsa Bosworth MBE, is the founder and national patient champion for NRAS, said: “There are over 400,000 adults living with RA across the UK and yet it is frequently poorly understood and its impact on the lives of those who live with it and their families, often completely under-estimated.”
She added: “It is an incurable systemic disease and the inflammatory process can affect the whole body, including the lungs, heart and eyes.
“RA is a chronic relapsing condition which has a pattern of flare-ups followed by periods of lower disease activity or remission; however, for some people, the disease is constantly progressive.”
RA has a severe impact on quality of life and it is estimated that approximately one-third of people stop work within two years because of the disease, and this prevalence increases thereafter.
It can affect people of any age but the most common age of onset is between 45 and 75, and is three times more common among women than men.
Joanne, who lives in Saltdean near Brighton, says that RA impacts her life day to day and that even making a cup of tea or having a bath can be a struggle.
She said: “Going out when you’re so tired and hurt from top to toe it can flare at any time and at times it’s not just physically but mentally tiring when you can’t just do the things you love to do.”
Zoe Chivers, interim director of support and services at charity Versus Arthritis, explained: “It is known as an auto-immune condition, where the immune system gets confused and starts to attack your body’s healthy tissues.
“In rheumatoid arthritis, the main way it does this is with inflammation in your joints.”
The main symptoms of RA are: joint pain, joint swelling, warmth and redness and stiffness, especially first thing in the morning or after sitting still for a long time.
Many people with RA also report tiredness and lack of energy – this is known as fatigue.
RA can affect any joint in the body, although it is often felt in the small joints in the hands and feet first.
Zoe said: “It also affects people in different ways and can worsen quickly, but you don’t need to face it alone.
“Early diagnosis and intensive treatment are important, so if you are experiencing symptoms you should speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
“If they think you have RA, they will refer you to a rheumatologist and may arrange blood tests to help confirm a diagnosis and find the right treatment for you.”
The charity Versus Arthritis provides tailored support through its free helpline on 0800 5200 520, with information and advice about arthritis, where you can speak directly with their trained helpline advisors.
The symptoms of the condition, such as when pain gets worse, is known as a flare-up. These can happen at anytime but may occur when someone has been stressed or had an infection.
Joanne has a number of aids around her home to help her manage her condition.
She said: “I keep fighting. I’m lucky enough to have such amazing support from my family and friends as the hospital rheumotology nurse specialist once said to me RA is a journey it takes time to find the right balance of medication, one size doesn’t fit all and most medications take around three months to start working and to this day I am it still trying to find that level of acceptance for a better quality of life.
“I’m currently in a flare and so back on steroids but if I can offer any advise it would be Talk tell people how you feel join a support group NRAS (National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society) have been an amazing support with advice information regarding various aspects of RA online booklets, zoom calls covering many subjects tailored just for people like me.”
Joanne also suffers from secondary Raynards Syndrome due to her RA in her fingers and toes as she has poor circulation
She said: “I will never give up I just learn to live with it .”
Ailas has lived with severe RA for more than 40 and set up the NRAS charity in 2001.
The charity is a patient-led organisation in the UK providing support, education, information and advocacy for people with RA and for children and young people affected by JIA.
She said: “Being supported to learn to be an active partner in the management of your disease is so important in order to keep yourself as well as possible and maximise your quality of life and long term outcomes.
“You only see your rheumatology team for a short time each year. The rest of the time you are at home, at work, getting on with your life and good supported self-management makes a real and positive difference.
“This includes ensuring you take your medications regularly as prescribed, making lifestyle behavioural changes if necessary, to eat healthily, maintain the right level of weight, keep physically active and to exercise and stop smoking should you do so. Smoking actually increases your risk of getting RA and it also reduces the beneficial impact of RA medicines.”
Keeping active is very important for those with RA and the charity Versus Arthritis runs an online exercise programme called Let’s Move with Leon, which is a set of 30-minute movement classes specially designed to help people with arthritis exercise at home.
Other forms of exercise shown to help include yoga and Tai Chi, which can help with pain and associated symptoms such as anxiety, as well as improving movement and flexibility.
NRAS (nras.org.uk) provides a national helpline 0800 298 7650, available daily from 9.30am until 4.30pm.
For Versus Arthritis, visit www.versusarthritis.org