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Rheumatoid Arthritis


Rheumatoid arthritis

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).

Common symptoms include the following:

  • Joint pain and stiffness that lasts longer than 1 hour
  • Swollen joints in the same joint on both sides of your body
  • Loss of joint movement
  • Firm, round nodules (growths) on your joints
  • Fatigue or muscle weakness
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have increased joint swelling, pain, or redness.
  • You have sudden shortness of breath.
  • You lose feeling in your hands or feet.

Contact your 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.

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis

may include any of the following:

  • Antirheumatics help slow the progress of RA, and reduce pain, stiffness, and inflammation.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Steroids help decrease inflammation.
  • Biologic therapy helps decrease joint swelling, pain, and stiffness. These medicines increase the risk of serious infection and require careful monitoring.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him of her 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.
  • Surgery may be needed to remove all or part of your joint. An implant may be placed to help reduce pain and repair the joint.

Manage your symptoms:

  • Go to physical and occupational therapy as directed. 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 or braces to help your joints rest and to decrease inflammation.
  • Rest when 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.
  • Apply ice or heat. Both can help decrease swelling and pain. 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 or a warm compress.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to decrease the strain on joints in your back, knees, ankles, and feet. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Physical activity can help increase strength and flexibility. Be as active as possible while avoiding things that increase your pain. Ask your healthcare provider or rheumatologist about the best exercise plan for you.

Ask your healthcare provider about vaccines:

You may be at an increased risk for infections due to RA and its treatment. Vaccines may prevent infections from various viruses.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

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

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Rheumatoid Arthritis (Ambulatory Care)

Associated drugs

Micromedex® Care Notes

Symptom checker

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference