What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a long-term condition that causes swelling, pain and stiffness in the joints. It occurs when your body’s immune system attacks the joints between your bones, usually affecting the hands, feet and wrists.

Symptoms and signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis usually starts slowly and affects joint symmetrically, i.e. the same joints on both sides of the body. Symptoms include:

  • Discomfort and swelling in the fingers, wrists or balls of the feet
  • Feeling stiff when you wake up in the morning
  • Joints feel hot, swollen and painful
  • Fever, fatigue, weight loss and decreased appetite

For some people, the disease develops very rapidly and there may be a sudden onset of pain and swelling in a lot of joints.

RA is unpredictable. Symptoms may come and go with no particular pattern and you may have flares. This is when joints are more inflamed and painful than at other times.

The pain, stiffness and swelling of Rheumatoid Arthritis can make it difficult to perform daily activities such as:

  • Getting in and out of bed
  • Bathing and drying yourself
  • Lifting a glass to your mouth
  • Tying shoelaces or doing buttons
  • Turning taps on and off
  • Walking outdoors on flat ground
  • Running errands or doing chores.

What causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The exact cause is unknown, but Rheumatoid Arthritis may result from a combination of factors, including:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Environmental influences
  • Immune system.

To prevent the progression of joint damage, proper diagnosis and treatment are essential. If you’re experiencing the symptoms listed above, talk to your GP who may refer you to a rheumatologist – a doctor who specialises in arthritis, musculoskeletal pain conditions and autoimmune diseases.

Talk with your doctor

We’ve put together a discussion guide that you can take along to your rheumatologist visit in order to share your symptoms.

Download your ‘Getting ready for your rheumatologist visit’ guide

Download your guide