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Arthritis is really not a very useful medical term - it means that there is something wrong with a joint - elbow, finger, hip, knee etc. It does not help at all to distinguish between the causes of the pain. Almost everyone recognises osteo-arthritis, a swelling in the joints which tends to happen to everyone as they get older, or suffer a series of knocks, or repeatedly misuse a joint, and for which there is currently no cure. So hearing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) probably prompts the thought of something similar, but it's not. That's why the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society has run an awareness week to educate about the differences.
Awareness is a good thing, so I'm happy to join in. I had no awareness of RA until I was diagnosed about four years ago, at which point I used the power of the internet search engine to educate myself.
RA is an auto-immune disease in which the body attacks its own synovial fluid (a lubricant in your joints) causing swelling, pain and damage in the joint, if left untreated. Because it is a failure of the systems which keep the body going there may be further effects on other parts of the body. These include:
So it's not something to be ignored. This quite jolly rheumatoid arthritis video helps to make this point, though of course the strapline should read "Don't ignore the early signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis"
In terms of early diagnosis I was lucky. I suffered a quite substantial flare up in which the joints in both my hands swelled up symmetrically, hurt like hell and the blood supply to them was cut off, so they went black. I was scared witless, and thought my hands would drop off. So the route to GP and on to rheumatology consultant was invoked very quickly, the diagnosis followed from a blood test, and the shot of steroids in my bum fended off further symptoms until the slow acting but long term effective drugs took over. So I'm pretty much all right for the moment , thank you.
But maybe the symptoms are creeping up on you. If so get it checked out. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of adapting your house to deal with the incapacity, breathing from an oxygen cylinder and taking things easy to deal with the fatigue.
So now you know.