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rheumatoid arthritis

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Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic systemic disease that primarily affects the joints. Presentation is typically as an insidious polyarthritis characterised by inflammatory changes in the synovial membranes and articular structures leading to deformity and ankylosis. Systemic features usually develop as the disease progresses.

RA affects between 0.5% and 1% of the population

  • approximately 400,000 people in England and Wales have this condition

  • incidence of the condition is around 1.5 men and 3.6 women developing RA per 10,000 people per year.
    • translates into approximately 12,000 people developing RA per year in the UK

  • overall occurrence of RA is two to four times greater in women than men. The peak age of incidence in the UK for both genders is the 70s, but people of all ages can develop the disease (3)

  • life expectancy of people with RA is reduced by 5 -10 years compared with that of people without the condition, and 35 - 50% of this excess risk is accounted for by cardiovascular (CV) mortality

  • approximately one third of people stop work because of the disease within 2 years of onset, and this prevalence increases thereafter. The total costs of RA in the UK, including indirect costs and work-related disability, have been estimated at between £3.8 and £4.75 billion per year (3)

The cause is unknown, but an autoimmune mechanism involving viral infection has been postulated.


  1. Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin 1998; 36 (1): 3-6.
  2. MeReC Bulletin 2007; 17 (5):1-8.
  3. NICE (February 2009). Rheumatoid arthritis- The management of rheumatoid arthritis in adults