Jump aboard to find out more about rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis affects around 690,000 people in the UK. There is no cure and if left untreated it can result in joint deformity, pain and often an overwhelming sense of fatigue.

Yet, there are lots of effective medications available today, allowing many people to lead full and healthy lives.

This week is Rheumatoid Arthritis Week (19 to 25 June) which aims to raise awareness about the condition, and the early symptoms to look out for.

To help get the message across, members of the North East Volunteer Group of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) will be out in force with their red Routemaster bus on Newcastle’s Northumberland Street. They will be available on Tuesday 20th June from 9.00am to 5.00pm.

Eleanor Houliston, a volunteer with the NRAS who has rheumatoid arthritis, explains: “A few years ago NRAS tasked regional groups with reaching out to more people during the Awareness Week. This posed a real challenge for us. We hold regular information days at the Freeman Hospital but this mission needed a new approach.

"Whilst chatting with a good friend, he kindly offered us his restored London Transport Routemaster. It was a huge success. The bus itself is eye-catching so we have continued to use it during Awareness Week, it gets people talking and offers somewhere for people to sit down and have a chat. 

"It was a great opportunity to make the general public aware of NRAS and the help, support and information the charity is able to give to anyone suffering with rheumatoid arthritis, as well as their family and friends. We also made people aware of the support offered by our local group.”

Eleanor adds: “Having myself been diagnosed in the early stages of the condition, I am now in remission and have been for almost eight years now. The North East Group feels strongly about this subject and wanted to encourage people to visit their GP quickly, as early diagnosis and effective treatment of the disease prevents many of its damaging consequences, helping patients maintain their quality of life.

"Several of those who came on to the bus said they felt better for having talked with us and they would go and seek help. The earlier they do this, the better.”

Newcastle is recognised nationally as a leader in improving the quality of lives for patients living with rheumatoid arthritis, both in terms of expert clinical treatment and trailblazing research. The Freeman Hospital has set up a dual-purpose Early Arthritis Clinic where patients have rapid access to the experts as well as the latest clinical trials.

Dr Lesley Kay, a Consultant Rheumatologist specialising in rheumatoid arthritis at the Freeman Hospital explains: “Evidence indicates the importance of diagnosing and treating Rheumatoid Arthritis at the earliest possible stage.

"Our Early Arthritis Clinic is designed to assess patients rapidly, within two weeks of referral. This speedy approach minimises delays between the onset of symptoms and starting treatment.

"The clinic also gives all patients the chance to participate in our active early arthritis research programme.”

Patients’ symptoms are assessed by either a doctor or nurse specialist, and blood test and scans are carried out to determine the stage of the disease.

Dr Arthur Pratt oversees much of the clinical trials work in Newcastle relating to rheumatoid arthritis. An Honorary Consultant Rheumatologist at the Freeman Hospital, his time is divided between NHS work - running the Early Arthritis Service at the Freeman Hospital - and conducting research within the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University which is a leading academic centre for studies into inflammatory arthritis.

Dr Pratt explains: “The key aim of the Early Arthritis Clinic is to improve the lives of those affected by this debilitating condition. Early detection means early treatment with better outcomes, which is great news.

"However, we also know through research that there is a significant variation between different patients’ responses to different treatment regimes. The Early Arthritis Clinic allows us to ask important questions, take blood tests, and sometimes joint tissue (synovial) samples, before any treatments have started at all.

"The samples allow us to look for what we call “bio-markers” – indicators of biological processes which can be measured and help us to predict the development of an individual patient’s rheumatoid arthritis.”

Dr Pratt adds: “We’ve been carrying out this research looking for “bio-markers” for some time now, although using joint tissue samples is relatively new. Newcastle is one of very few specialist Rheumatology Centres in the UK to conduct these tests. We are hopeful that this approach will help us, not only to diagnose the condition earlier, but also to pinpoint the particular drug that’s likely to work best for a particular patient.”

If found to have the condition, specialist treatment known as ‘DMARDs’ can be prescribed straight away.

Lesley Tiffin, nurse specialist explains: “There is now a wide range of DMARDs available today. In a recent study, patients diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and started on DMARDs within 12 weeks of symptom onset were two times more likely to be in remission than patients with later diagnosis. 

"In the future, this approach aims to prevent the long term disability we’ve previously seen with rheumatoid arthritis and reduces the intensity of treatment required.”

Lesley will be on board the bus in the afternoon of the 20th.

Notes to editors:

Rheumatoid Arthritis Week takes place during 19 to 25 June 2017. This year’s campaign aims to raise awareness about the condition, and the early symptoms to look out for.

The North East division of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) will be available with their red Routemaster bus on Northumberland Street in Newcastle on Tuesday 20 June 2017 from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

The Freeman Hospital is a leading provider of advanced Rheumatology care and treatment and working closely with Newcastle University is a European League Against Rheumatism Centre of Excellence (2010-2015) and Arthritis Research UK (ARUK) Experimental Arthritis Treatment Centre

Newcastle University is a designated:

  • MRC/ARUK Centre for Integrated Research into Musculoskeletal Ageing
  • ARUK Centre of Excellence in Tissue Engineering
  • ARUK Centre of Excellence in Rheumatoid Arthritis Pathogenesis

About Rheumatoid Arthritis

A long-term condition causing pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, Rheumatoid Arthritis commonly affects hands, feet and wrists, but can also cause problems in other parts of the body. The condition is commonly found to start between the ages of 40 and 50 and affects three times as many women as men.

Main symptoms include: 

  • Joint Pain/Throbbing Aching pain – this is often worse in the morning and after a period of inactivity.
  • Stiffness - again, more severe in the morning. For example, if your hands are affected you may not be able to bend your fingers or form a fist.
  • Swelling, warmth and redness - joints become inflamed and tender to touch.  

Although your joints are often the most affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis other general symptoms may include:

  • Tiredness/lack of energy
  • High temperature
  • Sweating
  • Poor appetite/weight loss.

Visit www.nras.org.uk

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