What is RA?

RA is a condition where your immune system (which usually protects your body against infection) mistakenly attacks the healthy lining of your joints (called the synovial membrane). Due to this, RA is known as an autoimmune disease.1

If left untreated, the inflammation of the joint tissue can cause permanent damage to the bones and joints.2

Who does RA affect?

RA can affect people at any age, but is most common in people aged 75 and older. Rates of RA are also slightly higher in women than they are in men.4

What are the symptoms of RA?

The symptoms of RA can vary between people, but the main ones are joint pain, stiffness and swelling, mainly in the hands, knees and feet. RA is considered “symmetrical” because usually the joints in the same area on both sides of the body are affected (if one hand is affected, normally the other one is too).1 You could also experience fatigue, a high temperature, sweating, lack of appetite and weight loss.5

What causes RA?

The cause of RA is not fully understood, but research suggests that it can develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.1,2,5

Genetic

  • If someone in your family has RA you can be up to four times more likely to get it
  • Some research suggests that there may be a link between female hormonal changes and RA due to the high number of women that are affected by the disease

Environmental

  • Smoking can increase the likelihood of getting RA
  • Some evidence suggests that pollution or a stressful/traumatic event could cause an immune response that can lead to the development of RA
  • An infection or a virus could lead to the development of RA

What are flares and what causes them?

Flares or flare-ups are times when your symptoms are most active and your joints become even more inflamed and painful.1 Flares are unpredictable and can occur without any obvious reason, so it’s a good idea to record when they happen to help identify what may be causing them.1

What does remission mean?

Remission is the main goal of RA treatment, but can mean different things to different people. For many, remission is when your symptoms are under control, disease progression has been halted and you can return to normal function (or as close to as possible).2

How your doctor can assess remission

Throughout the course of your treatment, your doctor will assess your signs and symptoms to work out if you have reached remission. They do this in a number of ways:6

  • Measuring the tenderness and swelling of your joints
  • Blood tests for inflammatory markers
  • Assessing whether your symptoms have improved by asking about your pain and fatigue levels
  • Measuring your disease activity score against tested criteria – you might hear your doctor use the terms DAS or ACR
    • Disease Activity Score (DAS) criteria
    • American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria

You can also keep a diary of your symptoms so it’s easier for you to recall this information when you speak to your doctor.