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Keep vigilant for signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

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Last week was Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) week (13 – 18 September 2021), with medical charities, doctors and nurses highlighting this serious condition. While not curable, the symptoms are treatable if picked up in good time. It is important to be aware of what they are and seek swift medical advice.

RA is a long-term condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, usually affecting the hands, feet and wrists. There may be periods where symptoms become worse, known as flare-ups or flares which can be difficult to predict.

It's possible to reduce flares and minimise or prevent long-term damage to the joints with treatment, so people can lead full lives and continue regular employment. However, this needs to be instigated in a timely manner. NHS Choices says it needs to be diagnosed quickly to prevent this damage.

Treatment includes physiotherapy, lifestyle changes and surgery but also disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biological treatments.

However if there are delays in diagnosis and treatment, the outcome can be poor. 

Shoosmiths is acting for one client who was diagnosed with RA but wasn’t told of the diagnosis for several years. As a result, they had to give up work, and their upper limbs are now deformed.

Andrea Rusbridge, specialist clinical negligence solicitor and head of clinical negligence in Shoosmiths’ Northampton office, said:

“Our client was diagnosed with gout but had signs of RA after blood tests, so was referred to a rheumatologist by the GP. The specialist diagnosed Rheumatoid Arthritis but did not mention this to our client. 

“A letter was sent to the GP confirming the diagnosis but this was never communicated to our client, who continued to think they had gout, as their gout medication was changed at that point. It wasn’t until four years later that they were told by the GP that the actual diagnosis was RA and they were referred back to the rheumatologist.

“Although they are now on DMARDs, the damage caused by the delay in treatment is now irreversible.”

Our client is now pursuing a claim against the GP and the specialist for clinical negligence. The case highlighted the importance of making sure that all communications between doctors are passed on to patients.   

Andrea Rusbridge commented:

“The message to patients is that while you have every right to rely on your GP and consultant to inform you of your diagnosis, you should also be asking to be copied in to any correspondence. It is also a good idea to take someone with you, as it can a very stressful time. Taking a friend or relative means you have two people to absorb the information and ask questions to make sure you understand the diagnosis and its implications.”

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