Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes the joints - initially, those of the hands and feet – to swell painfully. This inflammation occurs because the immune system, which usually fights infection, attacks the lining of the joints. These may eventually be permanently damaged and stop working properly.
RA affects about 350,000 people in the UK and is more frequent in women than men; although it’s most common in the over-40s, it can affect people of any age.6
The symptoms usually come and go, varying between mild discomfort and flare-ups that are painful enough to impair mobility and everyday activities. Although there is not yet a cure for RA, with early diagnosis and treatment the symptoms can be eased and the progression of the disease slowed.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, affecting an estimated 8.5 million people – most of them over 50, and more women than men (although younger people can also be affected by osteoarthritis, often as a result of an injury.)7
It is a disease that damages the cartilage that allows joints to move easily, and mostly occurs in the knees, hips and small joints of the hands; it causes bony growths around the edge of the joints, and mild inflammation (synovitis) of the tissues around the joints.
The symptoms vary greatly from person to person, and between different affected joints. Although it is not usually a critical or disabling condition, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, the symptoms can be eased by a number of different treatments including anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers, physiotherapy and surgery.
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis that affects the bones, muscles and ligaments of the spine. It usually occurs between 15 and 35 years of age, and is five times more common in men than women. There are 200,000 diagnosed cases in the UK.8
With AS, the sacroiliac joints connecting the spine to the pelvis to become inflamed, causing pain and stiffness in the neck and back. If left untreated, the inflammation causes the neck and back to become rigid (ankylosis), and can also lead to arthritis in the hips and knees.
Although there is no cure for AS, treatments are available to prevent the symptoms from interfering with your daily life. In addition to physiotherapy and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), the medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), tumour necrosis factor (TNF) blockers, TNF alpha blockers and bisphosphonates.
6 http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/pages/introduction.aspx - Accessed 04/06/10
7 http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/osteoarthritis/pages/introduction.aspx - Accessed 04/06/10
8 http://www.cks.nhs.uk/ankylosing_spondylitis/background_information/prevalence - Accessed 14/06/10