IT’s never too soon to take joint action over rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

That’s the message this week from one of the county’s leading consultants on the condition.

“If you think arthritis just affects the elderly you could be risking your health,” says Dr David Rees, consultant rheumatologist at Nuffield Health Hereford Hospital.

RA, which affects around 400,000 people in the UK, can hit at any age but it most commonly starts between 40 and 50.

It’s an inflammatory disease that destroys the joint lining and cartilage and if untreated can damage the bone, causing severe disability.

The hands, wrists and feet are usually affected first but it can spread.

This is actually an autoimmune disease which means the immune system gets ‘confused’ and attacks the body instead of just fighting infections as it’s designed to do.

Dr Rees, speaking ahead of the start of RA Awareness Week, said: “The problem is, it’s often not diagnosed for several months after symptoms start and the subsequent delay in treatment can result in irreversible damage to joints.

“Modern treatments are very effective in preventing the sort of disability that used to be common with RA.

It’s also important to be treated early because RA can lead to complications including ruptured tendons, heart disease and strokes if untreated for long periods of time.”

The classic symptoms of RA are swollen, stiff and painful joints that are often red and feel warm.

Typically, joints are stiff first thing in the morning for 30 minutes to an hour and sufferers may feel unwell, almost as though they have the beginnings of flu.

Visit the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society’s website at or call 0800 2987650 for more information.