Patient Articles

Rheumatoid Arthritis

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system does not work as it should. The healthy immune system protects you against harmful invaders like viruses. But in autoimmune diseases like RA, it attacks parts of your own body. This causes inflammation and pain.

In RA, your joints become inflamed. Over time, this can damage your joints. This damage may be irreversible. In RA, muscles can become weak as well. Stiff joints and weak muscles can keep you from doing normal daily activities. Having RA can also damage organs like your heart or lungs.

What Are the Symptoms?

When you get up in the morning, you may feel sick or stiff. During the day, you may feel tired. Your joints may be swollen and painful.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your doctor may ask a lot of questions about your symptoms. An X-ray or MRI can help your doctor look inside your painful joints. You may also have to get a blood test to check for problems in other parts of your body. The Rheumatology Information article on laboratory tests will provide more information about testing. Two tests In particular may help your doctor diagnose RA: the rheumatoid factor and the CCP antibody test. When these tests show an abnormal result (doctors call abnormal tests positive tests) they may help your doctor to be certain you have RA. However, these tests may not be abnormal in the first year or so that patients have RA.

What Is the Treatment?

There are many new and very effective treatments for people with RA. Medications can make you feel better. Some also prevent damage in your joints. You may need to take a combination of several medications. It is also important that you exercise and eat healthy.


Moving your joints and keeping your muscles strong is critical when you have RA. To begin, you should see a physical therapists or an occupational therapists. A therapist knows which exercises are best for you. Therapists will also teach you to do your exercise moves correctly.


Eating well is an important part of your RA treatment. A nutritionist can show you how to lose weight and keep your body as healthy as possible. Eating healthy food can also make a difference in heart disease and osteoporosis. People with RA are more prone to develop these diseases.

Anti-inflammatory Medications

These medications are usually non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs include medications like ibuprofen (eg, Advil®), naproxen (eg, Aleve®), celecoxib (Celebrex®), and meloxicam (Mobic®). They can help to ease pain and swelling. But they do not stop joint damage.
Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs are medications that can help decrease inflammation and reduce joint damage. Methotrexate is the cornerstone of DMARD therapy. It can be taken alone or in combination with other DMARDs. DMARDs include sulfasalazine (Azulfidine®), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil®), and leflunomide (Arava®). Your doctor may also prescribe DMARDs in combination with biologic medications (or biologics).


Biologics are designed to fix the broken parts of your immune system. These medications help to stop joint inflammation and joint damage. Today, biologics are the most effective therapy for people with RA. They are often used together with methotrexate.

Biologics interact with different parts of your immune system. Some act against chemicals that increase inflammation. These medications include etanercept (Enbrel®), adalimumab (Humira), infliximab (Remicade®), golimumab (Simponi®), certolizumab (Cimzia®), anakinra (Kineret®), and tocilizumab (Actemra®). Two others—abatacept (Orencia®) and rituximab (Rituxan®)—act against different types of white blood cells. Your doctor will work with you to choose a medication for you.

Biologics cannot be taken as pills. Instead, some are injected under the skin. You can inject these medications yourself. For others, you must have an intravenous (IV) drip at the doctor’s office. These IVs can take from 30 minutes to more than four hours. But you do not have to have them that often. Usually, you get an IV once every month, once every six months, or at even longer intervals

Other Treatments

People with RA are at risk of developing other diseases. These include heart disease or osteoporosis. Therefore, you may receive medications that lower your risk of getting these diseases. Or, you may receive medications to take care of these diseases, if you already have them.

There are many medications for people with RA. Many of these have side effects. Some can have very serious side effects. It is important that you tell your doctor how you are doing with the medications you take. There are many choices. Your doctor and you can find the best therapy for you!

Rheumatoid Arthritis Resources

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