14th June 2016
Putting the spotlight on Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Awareness Week 13-19 June 2016
The Rheumatology Clinical Team at St. Mary’s Hospital are putting the ‘Spotlight on Rheumatoid Arthritis’ this week and encouraging everyone to be aware of the early warning symptoms which are not always acted upon as soon as they could be.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects the immune system by attacking the lining of the joints causing inflammation which leads to symptoms such as pain and stiffness. Being a systemic disease, it doesn’t just affect joints but can affect a person’s whole system, including organs such as the lungs, heart and eyes.
Dr Mark Pugh, Consultant Rheumatologist and IW NHS Trust Medical Director, says people with early symptoms such as swelling and joint pain don’t always seek help from their GP as they can often put symptoms down to overdoing things: “As with all long term conditions, seeking help, treatment and support as early as possible gives the best possible outcome. Rheumatoid arthritis has traditionally been considered an older person’s condition but this isn’t always the case. We are seeing more young patients now and the sooner we can diagnose, the sooner treatment can start and the better the long-term outcomes are likely to be. Some outcomes can be exceptionally good with patients going on to lead full and active lives if the condition is diagnosed early and is under control.”
The Rheumatology Clinical Team based at Laidlaw Rehabilitation Unit, St. Mary’s Hospital provide a range of services and treatments for patients referred by their GP with joint pain. Waiting times are currently at an all-time low with new patients being assessed by a Rheumatology Consultant within three weeks of a referral and investigations are carried out to identify the cause of symptoms. Joint pain doesn’t always mean rheumatoid arthritis but it is important to diagnose quickly.
To assist in the diagnosis of RA an exciting new service will soon be available. Muscular skeletal ultrasound will be undertaken at St. Mary’s Hospital for specific rheumatology patients. This specialist service will allow clinicians to more accurately assess the joints and modify treatments accordingly. Dr Telegdy, Consultant Rheumatologist is trained in muscular skeletal ultrasound and is looking forward to being able to offer the service locally. Dr Telegdy, said: “The ultrasound scan will supplement the blood tests, x-rays, clinical examinations and history taking of patient symptoms which we currently use to monitor the disease progression in joints and treatment outcomes. Some patients may need additional drug therapy, but equally important, some patients may demonstrate disease remission and be able to reduce or stop drugs altogether.”
The Rheumatology service is always looking to improve the experience of patients and explore new technologies. A study is currently underway to improve the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of patients presenting with symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. The outcome of the study will enable patients suffering with other neurological conditions to be directed towards more appropriate diagnostic and treatment services.
Patients who have attended the clinic over the last year will have noticed the absence of traditional paper medical files being used by the clinicians. The service has been at the forefront of efforts to go paper light and modernise communication systems to make them faster and more readily available to professionals involved in patient care.
Elaine Healey, Rheumatology Clinical Nurse Specialist, said: “We have a good team at Laidlaw and our patients seem to enjoy coming to the unit, so much so that some of our patients are now volunteering in the Laidlaw cafe which is really great to see. And we are very lucky to have an excellent patient support group who continue to work with us in helping to develop the rheumatology service and further improve the care we give to our patients.”
The important signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis to be aware of are:
- pain, swelling and possible redness around your joints. Hands and feet are often affected first although rheumatoid arthritis can start in any joint
- stiffness in your joints when you get up in the morning or after sitting for a while, which lasts for more than 30 minutes and has no other obvious cause
- fatigue that’s more than just normal tiredness