What is rheumatoid arthritis? Who is affected?

RA is characterised by chronic infammation of the joints. The immune system produces antibodies that attach to the linings of the joints, ready to fight viruses and germs. But when a person has RA, instead of fighting infections these antibodies attack the body’s own tissues, causing lasting infammation and pain.

If untreated, RA can cause permanent damage to the joints. Treatments for autoimmune diseases generally focus on reducing immune system activity. These treatments can be highly efective, but they do leave suferers more exposed to illness.

Research indicates that many autoimmune disorders are inherited, but there are some secondary or acquired immune defciencies caused by medication or a virus. RA afects around 690,000 adults in the UK, two to three times more women than men. The problem usually afects hands, feet and wrists, causing swelling and sometimes damage to the cartilage and bone around the joints.

Although it can affect people of any age, it’s usually diagnosed in people over 40. If diagnosed and treated early, people with RA can live a much better quality of life, and managing their diet and lifestyle can help to limit the impact on their immune system.
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