Skip to Content
Is your RA under control? Take an assessment and find out

Rheumatoid Arthritis


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and damage to your joints. RA causes your body's immune system to attack the synovial membrane (lining) in your joints. RA can also affect other organs, such as your eyes, heart, or lungs. It may also increase your risk of osteoporosis (weakened bones).



  • Antirheumatics: These help slow the progress of RA, and reduce pain, stiffness, and inflammation.

  • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling and pain. NSAIDs are available without a doctor's order. Ask your primary healthcare provider which medicine is right for you. Ask how much medicine to take and when to take it. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems if not taken correctly.

  • Biologic therapy: This medicine helps your immune system fight the disease. These medicines increase the risk of serious infection and require careful monitoring.

  • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease inflammation.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your primary healthcare provider or rheumatologist as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Manage your symptoms:

  • Get physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain. An occupational therapist can teach you skills to help with your daily activities.

  • Use support devices: You may be given splints to wear on your hands to help your joints rest and to decrease inflammation. While you sleep, use a pillow that is firm enough to support your neck and head.

  • Rest when needed: Rest is important if your joints are painful. Limit your activities until your symptoms improve. Gradually start your normal activities when you can do them without pain. Avoid motions and activities that cause strain on your joints, such as heavy exercise and lifting.

  • Use ice or heat: Both can help decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your joint for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. You can apply heat for 20 minutes every 2 hours. Heat treatment includes hot packs, heat lamps, warm baths, or showers.

Support equipment:

The following devices may help you move and prevent falls:

  • Orthotic shoes or insoles: Ask about shoes or insoles that can support your feet when you walk.

  • Crutches, cane, or a walker: These devices may help decrease your chance of falling or being hurt. They also decrease stress on affected joints. Ask for more information about how to choose and use crutches, a cane, or a walker.

  • Devices to prevent falls: These include raised toilet seats and bathtub bars to help you get up from sitting. Handrails can be placed in areas where you need balance and support.


  • Eat a variety of healthy foods: Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D may decrease your risk of osteoporosis. Foods high in calcium include milk, cheese, broccoli, and tofu. Vitamin D may be found in meat, fish, fortified milk, cereal and bread. Ask if you need calcium or vitamin D supplements.

  • Maintain a healthy weight: This may help decrease strain on joints in your back, knees, ankles, and feet. Ask your primary healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight. Maintain a healthy weight to help decrease strain on the joints in your back, knees, ankles, and feet.

  • Do not smoke: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. This may help to reduce the severity of your symptoms and your risk of osteoporosis. Ask your primary healthcare provider for information if you need help quitting.

For support and more information:

  • Arthritis Foundation
    P.O. Box 7669
    Atlanta , GA 30357-0669
    Phone: 1- 404 - 872-7100
    Phone: 1- 800 - 568-4045
    Web Address:
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease
    Information Clearinghouse
    National Institutes of Health
    1 AMS Circle
    Bethesda , MD 20892-3675
    Phone: 1- 301 - 495-4484
    Phone: 1- 877 - 226-4267
    Web Address:

Contact your primary healthcare provider or rheumatologist if:

  • You have a fever.

  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash.

  • Your symptoms are getting worse, even with treatment.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have increased joint swelling, pain, or redness.

  • You have sudden shortness of breath.

  • You lose feeling in your hands or feet.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.