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Rheumatoid Arthritis - Part1

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to


Arthritis is a general term used for the condition; however there are over 100 types of arthritis. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is one of the most debilitating forms of the condition.


Symptoms and Diagnosis

Stiffness, especially in the morning is a classic symptom of RA, this stiffness often reduces during the day (for osteoarthritis, the symptoms tend to get worse as the day goes on). The hands, wrists, feet, ankles and knees are affected in over 80% of cases.


It can be difficult to diagnose RA because many other conditions may make the joints painful. Symptoms are a good indicator of the condition. However X rays of joints and blood tests such as testing for the presence of a “rheumatoid factor” or an “anti-CCP antibody” can be more conclusive in diagnosing the condition.


Doctors consider if you have four are more of the following symptoms, you are likely to have RA:

  1. Morning stiffness in affected joints lasting at least one hour
  2. Soft tissue swelling of at least 3 joint areas
  3. Swelling of finger, hand, or wrist joints
  4. Symmetrical swelling (ie) equal both sides
  5. Rheumatoid nodules (fleshy lumps that usually appear on hands, feet and elbows)
  6. Presence of rheumatoid factor (rheumatoid factor is an auto-antibody which shows up in blood tests and it an indicator of arthritis)
  7. Erosion of bone which shows up in X-rays, particularly in hand, wrist or feet joints


Other symptoms

Up to 30% of patients may present with non-arthritis type symptoms without obvious joint swelling such as malaise (general feeling of being unwell), weight loss and myalgia (muscle pain). Depression can be a feature of RA. RA is associated with increased rate of heart disease and there is evidence of increased mortality rate from heart related problems in RA patients.



The exact cause is unknown but there is a genetic link as RA tends to run in families. RA is three times more common in women than in men. It's common for the symptoms of RA to improve during pregnancy - this suggests that hormones and the immune system may be involved in triggering the condition. Obesity and smoking can be factors. The risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis being almost twice as high in smokers compared to non-smokers. For reasons unknown, RA onset is twice as common in winter than in other seasons.

Educate yourself about your condition

Whelehans Pharmacy, in conjunction with Arthritis Ireland (Westmeath Branch) are hosting a Rheumatoid Arthritis Information event on Wednesday Oct 12th at 6:45pm in the Greville Arms Hotel in Mullingar. Admission is free.


The guest speaker for the evening will be an expert in this field, Consultant Rheumatologist from Midland Hospital Tullamore, Killian O’Rourke MD MSc FRCP FRCPI. Dr O’Rourke will give first hand information on the condition along with self-help tips including information about surgery and aftercare for those thinking of going down this line. He will take questions from attendees.


Chartered physiotherapist Kevin Conneely MISCP of HealthStep Physiotherapy Mullingar will discuss the role of physiotherapy in Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), such as the benefits of manual therapy, the importance of a tailored and comprehensive exercise program.  The final speaker is pharmacist Eamonn Brady MPSI who will discuss medication.


To be continued….next week I will discuss treatment of RA.


This article is shortened to fit within Newspaper space limits. More detailed information and leaflets is available in Whelehans

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