Airedale Hospital specialist nurses and consultants have joined a campaign to dispel the myth that rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of the elderly.

They are manning an information stand in the hospital during a National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society awareness week, which began on Monday.

About 690,000 people have rheumatoid arthritis in the UK. Airedale is caring for more than 400 people with the condition.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease and signs include painful and swelling joints, general fatigue, loss of weight, poor sleep and flu-like symptoms.

Kelly Hayes-Head, clinical nurse specialist at Airedale, said: “Rheumatoid arthritis can have a drastic impact on people’s lives. It may result in deformity because of damage to the joints if left untreated.

“Effective and early treatment makes a big impact on the subsequent course of the disease, so our aim with this campaign is to prompt people to get advice from their GP if they have concerns.”

Among the local people treated by Airedale is Keighley woman Gillian Webber, 49, who has had rheumatoid arthritis since she was two.

She spent many of her early years in hospital, so missed out on much of her education.

She later worked for the NHS community dental service in Airedale, but when she was in her 30s the disease flared up again.

She said: “Some mornings I’ve hardly been able to lift my duvet off to get out of bed, and I’ve needed help dressing and undressing, opening things and eating.

“It’s a horrible disease that never completely goes away. I’ve had to do my best to keep it under control, and just get on with my life.

“I’ve tried a lot of different drugs and experienced many side-effects. However I’m currently having regular infusions of a drug called rituximab which has helped me feel much better.”

On October 16 Airedale’s education centre will host an open day and tea party for newly diagnosed patients.

They can meet other people who have the illness, along with representatives from occupational therapy, podiatry, physiotherapy and the rheumatology department.