Inflammatory arthritis – an immunological emergency

10 October 2019

If you have painful and swollen joint/s, please don’t assume it’s just wear and tear. It could be, however you may have inflammation related arthritis which is an emergency and needs immediate rheumatologist attention.

What is inflammatory arthritis (IA)?

It is a type of disease known as an autoimmune condition which means your immune system attacks the lining of your joints (the synovial lining). This causes inflammation, which leads to symptoms such as pain and stiffness. It is usually symmetrical, meaning that it affects both sides of the body in a similar pattern, although this is not always the case. It tends to affect the small joints of the hands and feet first – often the knuckle joints in the fingers. It can also be a systemic disease, meaning that it doesn’t just affect joints. IA can affect a person’s whole system, including organs such as the lungs, heart and eyes.

What are the symptoms?

The important signs and symptoms to be aware of are:

  • pain, swelling and possibly redness around your joints. Hands and feet are often affected first, though inflammatory arthritis can start in any joint
  • stiffness in your joints when you get up in the morning or after sitting for a while, which lasts for more than 30 minutes and has no other obvious cause
  • fatigue that’s more than just normal tiredness

If you have any of these symptoms, you may need to see the rheumatologist. The sooner IA is diagnosed and treated, the better the long-term outcomes are likely to be.

Getting the diagnosis

There is no single test that detects IA. Diagnosis is almost always confirmed by a consultant rheumatologist who is trained to identify synovitis, the swelling of joints. This can be very difficult for the untrained eye to see.

Treating inflammatory arthritis

If IA is not treated or is inadequately treated, it can cause irreversible damage to joints and lead to disability – and this used to happen often. But today, the management of IA is very good, far better than it was even a few years ago. 

Don’t delay

If you have symptoms that could be inflammation related, do talk to your doctor.  It’s important to get a referral to a rheumatologist at an early stage. The sooner IA is diagnosed and the sooner treatment starts, the better the long-term outcomes are likely to be.


This article has been written for you by Consultant Rheumatologist, Dr Muhammad Nisar. If you have painful or swollen joints, don’t delay. Book in to see Dr Nisar today by calling our team on 01582 788 412.

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