So what is RA? According to the NRAS ‘Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic, progressive and disabling auto-immune disease affecting 0.8% of the UK adult population.’ It also affects 1.3 million Americans according to the (American) Arthritis Foundation.
It frequently involves pain and swelling in the hands and feet, and pain in knees, elbows, shoulders and neck is also common. Unlike the more common osteoarthritis, the pain of rheumatoid arthritis is not caused by wearing on the joints, but rather by swelling and inflammation of the joint capsule (synovium). The reason for the swelling is basically that the sufferer’s immune system is attacking the synovium, but the reasons why are unclear. (For which you might want to read ‘who knows’ or ‘we haven’t a clue’ although there are various theories about.)
Apparently 75% of people with RA always have a ‘mild’ version – as I do at the moment, and for which I am eternally grateful. However, a doctor’s diagnosis of ‘mild’ doesn’t mean it feels that mild to the ‘patient’! RA is charactarised by ‘flare ups’ where the symptoms of pain, stiffness in the mornings and tiredness get worse than they are usually. Flare ups are completely unpredictable, both from the point of view of when they occur and how long they last, which makes it hard to live with. When I’m having a flare up work is a problem because I get tired so easily and it’s painful, and basic things like turning on a tap, flushing the toilet (sorry if that was ‘too much information’), opening doors and picking up a kettle become a problem.
There’s masses of information around; see my blogroll for some places to start looking.