Amy Devine-Devereux was a 23-year-old newly qualified nurse when, at seven months pregnant, the first signs of arthritis began creeping in. “I started having really agonising pain in my hips, not being able to walk around properly, and pain in my shoulder joint,” she recalls. “My hips got so painful that I ended up having to leave work for maternity leave a month earlier than I’d intended. Then, after I’d given birth, it all flared up.”
After a traumatic delivery, Amy hands and wrists swelled up within hours. “It really became obvious that things weren’t right,” she says. “Some of my first memories of that time are not being able to do the poppers on my daughter’s baby clothes, and not being able to hold her properly. When it was really difficult, I had to scoop my hands underneath her armpits and lift her up that way. Then, at other times, I could carry her around perfectly normally.”
After two months of GP appointments and referrals, Amy was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – an inflammatory auto-immune disease which affects 400,000 adults in the UK. Rheumatoid arthritis affects two to three times more women than men and, despite being most commonly diagnosed in those aged 40 to 60, appears to sometimes be triggered in younger women by pregnancy.
“This seems to be linked to the immune system being activated [in pregnancy] to not reject the foetus. Once the child is born, instead of the immune response ‘turning off’, it then starts to attack the healthy synovium membrane of the joints,” explains Clare Jacklin, CEO of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS).