This is rheumatoid arthritis

This is rheumatoid arthritis

Do you need the facts about rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? Are you unsure what to say when people ask questions? Here are some facts which put some meat on the bone (or more collagen in the joints)!

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the medical name for what is often referred to as rheumatism. RA affects the joints and cartilage in the body. RA is a systemic disease, which means it affects the whole body. You do not get RA just in your left elbow... The disease leads to inflammation in various joints and tendon sheaths, which sit around tendons and mucous sacs in the joints. RA is a disease that comes in flare-ups, which means the symptoms can come and go. The sickness can occur at any age, but it is most common for the disease to be detected in people between the ages of 45 and 65. RA is also more common in women than in men. In Europe, between 0.3 percent and 1 percent of people have the disease. (1)

What is an autoimmune disease?

RA is an autoimmune disease. This means the body's immune system, which is supposed to protect us from getting sick, attacks its own cells by mistake. Read more about the immune system and inflammation here.

Why do you get RA?

We still do not know what causes a person to develop RA. However, research has shown that environmental factors and living habits, in combination with certain genes, are likely to increase the risk of becoming ill. (2)

Risk factors

The greatest risk factor for RA is smoking in conjunction with an existing risk gene. Research has established that smokers are more likely to suffer. Smoking triggers an inflammatory process that starts in the lungs. Smoking also prevents some types of treatments from being fully effective (4). Research has shown that toxins in the air can present a similar risk to smoking (2). There are also studies that indicate that psychological pressure or negative stress can sometimes trigger RA (5).


The course of the disease in RA can vary. Some people get sick quickly, in just a few days or weeks. In others, the symptoms come slowly over a longer period of time. The most common symptom is mainly joint pain, which often affects small joints in the hands and feet. The elbows, knees and major joints in the body like the hip can also be affected. The symptoms are stiffness, tenderness and swelling of the joints, especially in the morning. In severe inflammation, the joints may become hot and red. People who have RA are also often tired and have a general feeling of illness. (3)


To be diagnosed with RA, you must meet certain criteria set by two organisations: the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) and the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). These criteria are created to help classify and identify the disease at as early a stage as possible. (1)


  1. European League Against Rheumatism (2011) Horizon 2020 Framework Programme EULAR’s position and recommendations. Brussel: EULAR.

  2. Eira (2019-04-29). Reumatoid Artrit. [2019-04-29].

  3. FYSS-kapitel REUMATOID ARTRIT [2016-11-22] 1 Fysisk aktivitet vid reumatoid artrit

  4. Hedström, A. K., Stawiarz, L., Klareskog, L. & Alfredsson, L. (2018) Smoking and susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis in a Swedish population-based case–control study. European Journal of Epidemiology, 33, ss. 415–423

  5. Song, H., Fang, F., Tomasson, G., Arnberg, F., Mataix-Cols, D,. Fernández de La Cruz, L., Almqvist,. Fall, K. & Valdimarsdóttir, U. (2018) Association of Stress-Related Disorders With Subsequent Autoimmune Disease, 319 (23) ss.