Health Guide
Drug Guide

Rheumatoid arthritis

What is it?

Rheumatoid (ROO-muh-toid) arthritis (arth-RI-tis) is also called "RA." Your body has a special system set up to help you attack and fight off illness. It is called your immune system. When you have RA, the system attacks your own body tissues. This causes pain, swelling, and stiffness of your joints. Later, joints may become a different shape (joint deformity) and you may lose movement. Joints are the places in your body where two bones meet. RA usually affects the joints of your hands, wrists, knees, ankles, and feet.


No one knows for sure what causes RA. Scientists have found that it may be caused by an infection (in- FECK-shun) in some people. If someone in your family has RA, you may be more likely to have it.

Signs and Symptoms:

Signs and symptoms of RA may be different for everyone. You may have signs and symptoms for a time and then they will get better. This is called "remission." After a remission, the signs and symptoms may start up again. RA is a life-long disease. At first, you may feel very tired, lose your appetite, and feel weak and achy. You may feel this way for weeks or months before the following signs and symptoms are seen. They may be first seen and felt in your hands, wrists, knees, ankles, and feet.

With time, RA may damage your body tissue and cause bone to wear away. When this happens, you may have the following signs and symptoms:

Wellness Recommendations:

Daily exercise, decreasing stress, and not smoking may help RA.

Medical Care:

Caregivers will ask you many questions and then examine you. X-rays, blood tests, and screening tests for osteoporosis may also be done. Ibuprofen and aspirin may be used to treat your symptoms but these medicines do not prevent RA from getting worse. A group of medicines called disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) changes RA and keeps it from worsening. Sometimes DMARDs are used soon after caregivers learn that you have RA. Prednisone is another medicine that may be used to treat RA. It is one of the oldest DMARDs. But it has side effects that include weight gain, high blood pressure, and others. Surgery may be needed to remove or replace joints.


If you have aggressive rheumatoid arthritis that is causing joint destruction, these strategies can be used in addition to the DMARDs, not in place of them. Using these strategies in either mild or aggressive cases of rheumatoid arthritis may reduce the need for more aggressive interventions and the associated risks.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.



Complementary Therapies:

Other ways of treating your symptoms:

Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

Talk to your caregiver if:

Care Agreement:

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


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Last Updated: 9/15/2016

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