Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease causing inflammation in your joints. The main symptoms are joint pain and swelling. It is the second most common form of arthritis in the UK.
The ends of your bones are covered with cartilage, which has a very smooth, slippery surface. The cartilage allows the ends of your bones to move easily against each other. The joint is surrounded by the synovium, which produces a small amount of synovial fluid which lubricates the joint. The synovium has a tough outer layer called the capsule which, together with the ligaments, holds your joint in place and prevents the bones moving too much. Strong fibrous bands called tendons anchor the muscles to the bones.
What happens in a joint affected by rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation in the synovium. The result is very similar to the inflammation that can occur if you have an infected cut or wound – it goes red, swells, produces extra fluid and hurts. The redness is caused by the flow of blood increasing and, as a result, the inflamed joint may feel warmer than usual. The inflammation is caused by a build-up of fluid and cells in the synovium.
Your joint hurts for two reasons:
- Your nerve endings are irritated by chemicals produced by the inflammation.
- The capsule is stretched by the swelling in your joint.
When the inflammation goes down, the capsule remains stretched and can’t hold your joint in its proper position. This can make the joint unstable, allowing it to move into unusual or deformed positions.
It is important that rheumatoid arthritis is treated within a few weeks of onset to minimise the risk of irreversible joint damage. Treatment is always supervised by a Rheumatology Consultant and includes the use of immunosuppressant drugs to control inflammation.
Find out more about Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you suspect you may have rheumatoid arthritis, contact the Rheumatology Team at Baddow Hospital and make an appointment with one of our Private GPs.