Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of synovial joints. The pathogenesis of the condition involves a breakdown of immune tolerance to proteins present within the synovial joint and this may arise due to a number of environmental and genetic risk factors.
The inflammatory response in a joint affected by rheumatoid arthritis is extensive, causing the joint to feel hot, painful, tender and look red, the classic signs of inflammation. The inflammatory cells involved erode the cartilage and bone in the affected joint and can lead to fusion of opposing bones, restricting movement.
As rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition, it doesn’t just affect the joints. Inflammatory chemicals such as TNF-alpha and IL-6 can cause fatigue, cachexia and extra-articular symptoms such as pleural fibrosis. Anti-inflammatory medications are recommended for patients living with rheumatoid arthritis, generally known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Whilst these can have side effects, careful monitoring of treatments and help from a multidisciplinary team can help patients manage their condition.
For a brief overview of the condition, please see below.