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Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week: addressing common misconceptions of arthritis

Posted: 19/06/2019

This week (17 – 23 June 2019) is Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week and the aim of this year’s campaign is to challenge misconceptions of arthritis being a condition of the elderly or associated with ageing.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. The symptoms usually affect the hands, feet and wrists. It is an auto-immune condition which can damage the joints, cartilage and nearby bone, and it can also affect internal organs such as the heart, lungs and eyes. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur in people of any age including children and it is a condition where the immune system which usually protects us from infections, starts to attack the joints causing pain, stiffness and swelling.

The 'auto-immune' nature of the condition is what differentiates rheumatoid arthritis from the more widely known form of arthritis, osteoarthritis – the latter being caused by wear and tear in the joints as you get older. The charity leading the campaign, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, highlights the common misconceptions about the disease and how the disease can impact anyone over the age of 16.

There may be periods where symptoms become worse, known as flare-ups or flares, and quality of life can be severely impacted if left without appropriate treatment. Sadly, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help prevent the condition getting worse and can reduce the risk of further problems such as joint damage. Early treatment enables many people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis to have periods of months or even years between flare-ups. This can help them to lead full lives and continue regular employment.

Septic arthritis

While it is a different condition, early treatment of septic arthritis is also crucial to prevent long term joint damage. Septic arthritis is inflammation of a joint caused by a bacterial infection, and for this reason, it is also known as infectious or bacterial arthritis. Like rheumatoid arthritis, it can affect people of all ages, including very young children.

Septic arthritis typically causes severe pain, swelling, redness and heat in affected joints. These symptoms tend to develop quickly over a few hours or days. There may also be difficulty moving the affected joint, and it can cause a high temperature and fever. Young children with septic arthritis will generally be irritable and may cry whenever the infected joint is moved – for example, during nappy changing. They may also try to avoid using or putting any weight on affected joints.

Typically, septic arthritis is caused by two forms of bacteria (staphylococcal and streptococcal bacteria). The bacteria may enter a wound and travel through the bloodstream to the affected joint, or may infect the joint directly after an injury or during surgery.

The condition is frequently treated with IV antibiotics in hospital, and provided that it is treated promptly, a full recovery can be achieved. However, a delay in treatment can cause long-term joint damage which can lead to various problems including restriction of movement of the joints.

Naomi Holland, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, comments: “Raising awareness of arthritis is important to ensure that people understand that the condition does not just affect us as we get older, but that there are many types of arthritis that can develop in a person’s lifetime. Like many injuries, conditions and diseases, prompt diagnosis and treatment is crucial to ensure a good outcome and recovery. Unfortunately, we see many cases where there has been a delay in treatment which has resulted in deterioration and long-term damage. Septic arthritis is a recognised complication of injury and surgery, such as knee and hip replacement surgery, and therefore medical professionals should be able to recognise signs and symptoms and ensure that prompt treatment is provided.”

If you or a family member have concerns arising from medical care or treatment relating to arthritis, a member of Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team may be able to help. Please contact the team on 0800 328 9545.

For further information on rheumatoid arthritis, or to get involved with the campaign, please visit the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society’s website.

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