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The S Factor
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, progressive and disabling auto-immune disease .
It is a disease in which the immune system attacks the tissue within the joint, leaving it painful and inflamed. If left untreated, the joint can lose its shape and alignment, and can eventually become unstable and ultimately, completely destroyed.
It is a painful condition, and can lead to disability (this varies between individuals and depends on how severe/aggressive the disease is) and ultimately can affect a person’s ability to carry out activities of daily living.
The disease can progress very rapidly (again the speed of progression varies widely between individuals) or more slowly, causing swelling and damaging cartilage and bone around the joints.
Any joint may be affected but it is commonly the hands, feet and wrists. It is a systemic disease which means that it doesn’t just affect joints, it can affect the whole body and internal organs (although this is not the case for everyone with RA) such as the lungs, heart and eyes.
It affects approximately three times more women than men and onset is generally between 40 - 60 years of age although it can occur at any age. There are around 15,000 children under the age of 16 with the juvenile form of the disease. We do not know what causes it although various ideas include environmental triggers such as virus, infection, stress, trauma have been suggested. Cigarette smoking is an important precipitating factor.
Furthermore, smoking makes the outlook for the RA worse. So far, we cannot cure it, but we now understand much more about the inflammatory process and how to manage it. RA is a lot more common than leukaemia and multiple sclerosis.
However, because RA and its effects are not well publicised, awareness of the severity of the condition tends to be restricted to those who are directly affected or their carers and relatives.
The good news is that the prognosis today, if diagnosed and treated early, is significantly better than it was 20-30 years ago and many people have a much better quality of life in spite of having RA.
RA is economically costly. In fact the economic burden of RA in terms of loss of productivity amounts to £8 billion1. We now know that uncontrolled RA increases mortality through an increased risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes; again the need for early treatment is imperative.
1. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, Economic Burden of RA Report, 2010
The Inflammatory Arthritis Patient Information Pathway
To go alongside the launch of the S-Factor campaign, NRAS and Arthritis Research UK have continued the work done by the Rheumatology Futures Group to publish an Inflammatory Arthritis Patient Pathway. Inflammatory Arthritis (IA) is the term used to describe a range of conditions – including the 3 most common forms of inflammatory arthritis, , Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis and Psoriatic Arthritis,which affect the immune system. Described as ‘autoimmune diseases’, they each have their own characteristics and can strike at any age. However, what these diseases have in common is that the body’s immune system is wrongly triggered to attack your own body, causing pain, stiffness, damage to joints and, if left untreated, possibly disability. They are systemic diseases which means that they can affect the whole body and even internal organs such as the lungs, heart and eyes, although this is certainly not the case for everyone.
There is no cure of these diseases, but managed well, people diagnosed today can expect to lead relatively normal lives. For more information about these diseases, click on the links below and elsewhere on this website! There are six steps on the pathway, as shown below, which is followed by a list of the organisations that can help with information about any of the steps on the pathway.
Step 1 Recognising symptoms before seeking help
Step 2 Visiting the GP for the first time
Step 3 Seeing the specialist for the first time following referral
Step 4 Tests, treatments and information
Step 5 On-going care
Step 6 Long term disease and complications
To visit the NRAS Inflammatory Arthritis Patient Information Pathway please click here