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If you are newly diagnosed with RA, asking the right questions will ensure you are well informed about your treatment options. If you are already undergoing treatment, ask the right questions to understand whether your treatment is working for you.

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Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers stroll a New Zealand beach

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?-

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term (chronic) disease that affects joints in the body. In RA, the immune system doesn't work the way it should, and can attack healthy parts of the body. That is why RA is called an autoimmune disease.

Who Gets Rheumatoid Arthritis?+

Around 40,000 New Zealanders have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Anyone can get RA, but there are some general facts:

  • RA symptoms usually appear between the ages of 20 and 60
  • A family history of RA may make you more likely to develop the disease

What Are the Symptoms?+

Symptoms such as joint pain and stiffness, and fatigue are common in RA. This is due to the immune system ‘attacking’ healthy parts of the body. Joints can become damaged and people can experience disability. This can be frustrating and stop people from enjoying day-to-day activities. Fortunately, many different treatments options are now available that improve the symptoms of RA and slow joint damage.

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Progresses+

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is usually a progressive disease, which means that without proper treatment the symptoms may get worse. This can lead to permanent joint damage. As joint damage progresses, it can cause deformity, disability, and day-to-day tasks may become difficult. People may not be able to enjoy the things they used to. This can result in them feeling as though they have a poor quality of life.

A joint is the place where two bones meet. Each joint is surrounded by a ‘capsule’ that is filled with fluid. This fluid is called ‘synovial fluid’ and it protects and supports your joints. Synovial fluid lubricates the cartilage (cushioning between your joints) and helps the bones move easily. Synovial fluid is made by synovium – a tissue that lines the ‘capsule’.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes synovitis – an inflammation of the synovium. This inflammation can cause pain, swelling, redness and warmth. As RA progresses, the damage to the cartilage and bones gets worse. This may cause the muscles, ligaments and tendons that support your joints to weaken.

All of this can have a significant impact on quality of life. People with RA may find it harder to do the things they used to enjoy, or to do things around the home. If you have RA, it is important to make sure you are on a treatment that is working well for you as this may slow down the progression of your RA.

Rheumatoid Arthritis VS Osteoarthritis+

Most people are familiar with the term "arthritis." When people talk about arthritis, they are often referring to osteoarthritis (OA), as OA is much more common. Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on the joints, and gets worse with age. The pain that people feel with OA is due to this joint damage. It occurs more often in joints that carry a lot of weight. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can cause pain in any joint in the body, no matter how much weight it carries.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Osteoarthritis
More severe than OA Generally less severe than RA
Caused by immune system attacking the body Caused by wear and tear on the body
Can affect people of any age, but most commonly affects those between ages 20 and 60 Generally affects people over age 40
Symptoms can be felt throughout the entire body Usually only affects the joints
Affects more women than men Commonly found in both men and women
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