Of the 10 million people in the UK with arthritis, 400,000 suffer from a condition known as rheumatoid arthritis.
Children, adults, and elderly people all suffer from the condition, which causes inflammation and pain in joints.
There are dozens of different types of arthritis, each with particular symptoms and causes, but the most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
This article will examine the symptoms, causes, and possible ways that rheumatoid arthritis can be treated.
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common kind of arthritis in the UK. Its main symptoms are joint pain, swelling, and joint stiffness, usually developing over the course of a few weeks.
They are also more long-lasting than is usual for osteoarthritis. Where osteoarthritis may cause stiffness for around half an hour after getting up in the morning, the stiffness from rheumatoid arthritis will typically stay for a lot longer. Rheumatoid arthritis causes various other more general symptoms as well, including:
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Tiredness or general lack of energy
Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause the eyes to dry out if it is present in the eyes, and can cause various chest problems should it affect the lungs or heart.
The condition can also impact the patient's mental health. It can be hard to deal with the unpredictable nature of arthritis.
The level of pain and stiffness can differ each day, and there is no way of predicting when a flare-up will occur.
This unpredictability can result in depression or feelings of stress and anxiety. Carers are encouraged to look for early signs. Undertaking courses on mental health awareness training or stress awareness training is advised to help identify changes in their patient's behaviour.
What are the causes of rheumatoid arthritis?
While it is not known what triggers the development of rheumatoid arthritis, we do know that it is an autoimmune condition (a type of disease where the body’s immune system wrongly identifies a part of the body as being a foreign object and attempts to destroy it).
The antibodies attack the lining of the joints, causing a cell layer to release chemicals that damage bones, tendons, cartilage, or ligaments. This results in the symptoms outlined above.
As mentioned, the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known, but several risk factors have been identified as contributors.
People who smoke seem to be at a higher risk of developing the condition. Women are also several times more likely than men to develop the condition, which suggests a possible link between oestrogen levels and the condition.
There is also a genetic factor, as there is a small amount of evidence to suggest that it can run in families, although whatever role genes play is considered minimal by most professionals.
Are there any treatments for rheumatoid arthritis?
Like osteoarthritis, there is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Treatment usually revolves around managing the symptoms and enabling as active a life as possible. That said, making lifestyle changes and getting early treatment can limit the extent of the condition.
This treatment comes in the form of two kinds of medication, known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs, for short) and biological treatments. DMARDs work by blocking the effects of the chemicals which are released when attacked by the immune system, and once an effective variety is discovered you will have to take it long-term. Biological treatments are given in addition to DMARDs (normally when the DMARD alone hasn’t been fully effective) and are injections that stop certain chemicals in the blood from activating the immune system.
Rheumatoid arthritis-related training
At Flexebee, our training is designed to help those working in the health and social care sectors unlock their potential in the delivery of patient care. Whether refresher courses are required to revisit existing skill sets or specialist learning is needed, we can help.
Training related to arthritis can be found in our Care Essentials course page which covers training from patient handling (teaching candidates the principles of mobility when dealing with the elderly) to working with disabilities. For those just starting in the care profession, we also have courses on preparing to work in care, carers awareness, duty of care, and care planning.