Introduction of rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that causes pain and swelling in the joints. Hands, feet and wrists are commonly affected, but it can also damage other parts of the body.

What are the symptoms?

Rheumatoid arthritis can make your joints swell, feel stiff and leave you feeling generally unwell and tired. Symptoms usually vary over time, and range from mild to severe.

The condition can sometimes be very painful, making movement and everyday tasks difficult.

When symptoms become worse, this is known as a flare-up or flare. A flare-up is impossible to predict, making rheumatoid arthritis difficult to live with.

Read more about the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and living with rheumatoid arthritis.

Who is affected?

The condition is estimated to affect over 580,000 people in England and Wales and occurs more frequently in women than men. It is most common between the ages of 40 and 70, but can affect people of any age.

Why does it happen?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This is when your immune system – which usually fights infection – attacks the cells that line your joints, making them swollen, stiff and painful. Over time, this can damage the joint itself, the cartilage and nearby bone.

Read more about the causes of rheumatoid arthritis.

Treating rheumatoid arthritis

There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, early diagnosis and treatment can control symptoms and help prevent disability.

Treatment options include:

  • medication  to relieve symptoms or slow progress of the condition
  • surgery  to correct joint problems
  • supportive treatments  such as physiotherapy
  • complementary therapies  such as massage or acupuncture, which some people find helpful

Read more about how rheumatoid arthritis is treated.

Currently, rheumatoid arthritis cannot be prevented as the exact trigger of the condition is unknown. Although viruses and bacteria may be involved, research is not yet conclusive.


Having rheumatoid arthritis can lead to several other conditions that may cause additional symptoms.

The most common complications are carpal tunnel syndrome and inflammation of other areas of the body such as the lungs, heart and eyes.

Read more about the complications of rheumatoid arthritis.

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