What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of joints. While any joint can be affected, the small joints in the hands and feet are involved more frequently than others., RA afflicts between 0.5% and 1% of the population worldwide, of these approximately 75% are women. The disease most often begins between the ages of 40 and 50, however, RA can develop at any age.
RA is a progressive disease with currently no cure, making the disease a chronic condition. RA is associated with regular flare ups causing pain, stiffness and swelling and if left untreated these will cause irreversible joint damage and ultimately severe joint deformation and disability.
The treatment of RA is staged. Initially the patient receives low-cost anti-inflammatory drugs. If this treatment becomes ineffective, different and more advanced drugs (e.g. biologics, like anti-TNF antibodies) are employed. Treatment is to be guided by monitoring of disease activity, and if done adequately (frequent and reliable), irreversible joint damage can be prevented and discomfort due to the disease and drug side effects can be limited. As such monitoring of disease activity will not only improve the quality of life of RA patients but will also help to reduce the overall treatment costs which is important given the chronic nature of RA and the high costs of the biologics.
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