Southern DHB Rheumatology Services
Public Service, Rheumatology
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
RA is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joints. This results in inflamed (red, hot, swollen), stiff and painful joints and eventually the destruction of the cartilage and bone of joints. RA can occur at any age. The cause is unknown.
Symptoms do not only involve the joints but you may suffer from tiredness, low energy, fevers, poor appetite with weight loss and poor sleep.
Diagnosis is made on the basis of your history and examination of your joints. X-rays may be normal in the early stages of the disease. MRI can be more sensitive at picking up early changes but can also be normal. Blood tests are done looking for an antibody that is present in about 75% of people with RA. This is called the rheumatoid factor. Unfortunately people who don’t have RA can have a positive rheumatoid factor test. Other blood tests can also help make the diagnosis.
Treatment includes medications to relieve pain and inflammation. It also involves medication aiming at modifying the immune system to stop it from damaging the joints further. There are several medications in this group and your specialist will discuss side effects and benefits with you so you can work out which suit you best. For more information see www.arthritis.org.nz