Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the second most common form of arthritis (after osteoarthritis), affecting nearly half a million Australians. RA is a major cause of disability and psychological distress, with many people affected requiring assistance with daily activities.
RA is an autoimmune disease that causes pain and inflammation of the joints. It is usually affects the smaller joints, such as those in the hands, feet and wrists, although larger joints such as the hips and knees can also be affected. Inflammation causes the joints to become painful, hot and swollen and movement to be restricted. Stiffness in the joints is common, especially in the morning. The inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis can result in damage to the joints, particularly if left untreated. RA affects women more frequently than men. The onset is usually between 35 and 60 years, however the majority of the disease burden in Australia is in people over 65 years.