Understanding RA


The most important step to living well with arthritis is to learn about your condition and its management. Whether you are looking for information about your rheumatoid arthritis (RA), living with arthritis or its medical management, our website has a multitude of resources to help you: information sheets, booklets, videos and personal stories from people across Australia who are living well with RA.


You CAN live well with arthritis. Understanding RA and how it can be treated and managed is the first step.


What is RA?

RA or rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting your joints. The condition can also affect other organs throughout your body. RA symptoms develop gradually, and it is not always possible to know when your condition first developed. RA can affect many different parts of the joint and nearly every joint in the body.

Is rheumatism different to arthritis?

Not really. Rheumatism is just a more general word that was used in the past. It describes any pain in your bones, muscles and joints. Now we know more about problems with bones, muscles and joints, so we use words like back pain, tendonitis and arthritis to describe these conditions.

Are there different types of arthritis?

There are over 100 forms of arthritis. Each type of arthritis affects you and your joints in different ways, with one RA being a common form. 

Who gets RA?

Anyone can get RA, including children and young people. In Australia, about one in fifty people have arthritis. RA can affect people from all backgrounds, ages and lifestyles.

What are the symptoms?

Rheumatoid arthritis affects people in different ways but the most common symptoms you may feel are:

  • pain
  • stiffness or reduced movement of a joint
  • swelling in a joint
  • redness and warmth in a joint
  • general symptoms, such as tiredness, weight loss or feeling unwell.

Is my sore joint due to RA?

There are many different reasons why your joints may be sore. Not all pain in muscles and joints is caused by RA. It could be from an injury or using your joints and muscles in an unusual way (for example, playing a new sport or lifting heavy boxes). Talk to your doctor if you have pain and stiffness that:

  • starts for no clear reason
  • lasts for more than a few days
  • comes on with swelling, redness and warmth of your joints.

How can I find out if I have RA?

See your doctor as soon as possible if you have symptoms of arthritis. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine your joints. They may do some tests or x-rays, but these can be normal in the early stages of RA. It may take several visits before your doctor can confirm your diagnosis. If you have RA, your GP is likely to refer you to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specialises in arthritis, for more tests and treatment.

Is there a cure for RA?

Currently there is no cure for RA. While there are treatments that can effectively control symptoms, you should be wary of any products or treatments that claim to cure RA.

Can RA be treated?

Rheumatoid arthritis can be effectively controlled with modern treatment. Early diagnosis and the right treatment can ease symptoms and may even prevent damage to your joints. Research has led to great improvements in this area. Because RA affects people in different ways, treatment will be tailored to your personal needs. It is important to work with your healthcare team to find treatments that suit you.

What can I do?

The good news is that there are many simple things you can do to live well with RA:

  • find out more about your RA, how it is affecting you and learn about your treatment options
  • stay active: keep your joints moving and your muscles strong
  • learn ways to manage pain: there are many things you can do to help you cope with pain
  • manage tiredness: learn to pace yourself, that is balance rest and your normal activities
  • keep to a healthy weight: there is no diet that can cure RA, but a well-balanced diet is best for your general health
  • look after and protect your joints: find out about equipment and gadgets that can make tasks easier
  • acknowledge your feelings and seek support: as there is currently no cure for RA it is natural to feel scared, frustrated, sad and sometimes angry. Be aware of these feelings and get help if they start affecting your daily life.