Inflammatory arthritis is characterised by dysfunction of the immune system, and inflammation within joints, tendons or ligaments, as well as extra articular manifestations. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of inflammatory arthritis and a typical community pharmacy may have between 20 and 25 patients with RA. The peak age of onset is 40-70 years, with predominance in women over men. RA primarily affects the small joints of the hands and feet, often with a symmetrical distribution, but can also affect the larger joints and organs, including the heart, lungs, eyes and kidneys.
The dominant feature of RA is inflammation in the joint synovial membrane, causing pain and swelling which, if not controlled, can lead to joint destruction and loss of function. RA can also be associated with systemic symptoms including fatigue, weight loss and fever, and an increased risk of co-morbidities, such as cardiovascular disease and increased mortality.