This is a disease awareness website produced by UCB and is intended for a UK and Ireland audience.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of disease known as an autoimmune condition. The immune system is the body’s natural self-defence system and it normally protects us from infections and illness. Autoimmune conditions cause the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack the body’s healthy tissues, such as the joints, causing inflammation.

Inflammation is normally an important tool the immune system uses to fight an infection by sending extra blood and fluid to an area to. However, in rheumatoid arthritis the inflammation and extra fluid in a joint can cause pain and stiffness as well as permanent damage to a joint.

What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?

The main symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are joint pain, swelling and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause problems in any joint in the body, although the small joints in the hands and feet are often the first to be affected.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a symmetrical arthritis, meaning that it usually affects both sides of the body in a similar way, although this is not always the case.

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can be different from person to person and usually develop over several weeks. Symptoms can come and go, and may even change over time.

The main symptoms affecting the joints are:

What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect adults of any age. It most commonly starts between the ages of 40 and 60.

As previously mentioned, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, which means it's caused by the immune system attacking healthy body tissue. However, it’s not yet known what triggers this.

Normally, your immune system works to make antibodies that attack viruses and bacteria, helping to fight infection. Rheumatoid arthritis causes your body’s immune system to mistakenly send antibodies to the lining of joints, where they attack the tissue around the joint.

This causes the thin layer of cells (synovial membrane) that covers your joints to become inflamed and sore, releasing chemicals that damage the nearby:

  • Bones
  • Tendons (connect bone to muscle)
  • Cartilage (connect bone to other bones)
  • Ligaments (connect bone to cartilage )

Rheumatoid arthritis risk factors

There are a few things that may increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis , including:

The information provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical care. If you have any concerns about your health or medicine, you should consult your healthcare specialist or general practitioner.

If you get any side effects, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse. This includes any possible side effects not listed in the patient information leaflet. You can also report side effects directly in the UK via the Yellow Card Scheme website: or via the the MHRA Yellow Card App in the Google Play or Apple App Store. In Ireland please report via the HPRA at

You can also report adverse events to UCB at or

Images used are not of real patients.
IE-DA-2300076. September 2023