The causes of rheumatoid arthritis

Unlike osteoarthritis, which is a result of wear and tear on the joints, rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that leads to swelling within the joint. Since there is presently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, managing pain is an important part of living with the condition.

Each time there is swelling in the joint a little more damage is done, weakening the joint.

Woman cutting a flower in her garden

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis varies from person to person and tends to develop gradually over time.

Since the swelling is intermittent, the symptoms and the pain may come and go.

The most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Joint stiffness, often first thing in the morning

Because it’s an autoimmune disease there are often non-localised symptoms too, including tiredness, anaemia, flu-like symptoms and feeling hot and sweating.

Less common symptoms include weight loss, rheumatoid nodules (fleshy lumps below the elbows or on hands and feet) and inflammation of other body parts, for example the lungs.

During flare-ups, the pain of rheumatoid arthritis can cause real distress and make daily life challenging, leading sometimes to feelings of depression.

Managing the condition

A big part of living with rheumatoid arthritis lies in recognising that its severity can ebb and flow.

By spotting the onset of flare-ups, you can work around them. For example, pause your more strenuous tasks until you’re feeling better and try to rest when swelling and pain occurs.

There’s no specific diet guaranteed to help with rheumatoid arthritis. However, there’s some scientific evidence that diets can help if they:

  • Are low in saturated fats
  • Are high in unsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids which are found in oily fish (consumed within UK guidelines for fish intake)
  • Include a good supply of vitamin C

A balance of exercise and rest is recommended. Activities such as swimming that are gentle on the joints can help you maintain flexibility (and fitness too).