What if I get COVID-19 with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Last Editorial Review: 3/27/2020

Ask the Experts

I have rheumatoid arthritis and would like to know what risks are involved if I were to get sick with the coronavirus (COVID-19). Am I more likely to get COVID-19 if I have rheumatoid arthritis? What can I expect? 

Doctor’s Response

There’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, but generally speaking, people with a higher disease activity of autoimmune or inflammatory arthritis tend to be at a higher risk of infections because of immune dysregulation. 

The main concern for complications in people with autoimmune disease who become sick with the seasonal flu or COVID-19 is for secondary bacterial infections to occur after the viral infection.

It is not currently known whether taking immunosuppressant drugs increases your risk of catching COVID-19. But in general, drugs that treat autoimmune and inflammatory arthritis such as biologics and corticosteroids may contribute to a higher risk or severe viral infection.

If you have been exposed to COVID-19 and are experiencing any flu-like symptoms, you need to contact your doctor or rheumatologist right away for medical advice and let them know if you are taking any immune-suppressing drugs.

Do not stop or change the dosage of your arthritis medication without your doctor’s recommendation.

People who are at risk for COVID-19

Additionally, if you have other chronic health conditions, you could be at a higher risk for severe illness with COVID-19.

Those who are at most risk due to complications of COVID-19 include:

  • People over the age of 65
  • People who live in an assisted living facility 
  • People with chronic lung disease (COPD or asthma)
  • People who are severely obese
  • People who are immunocompromised (for example, undergoing cancer treatment)
  • People with HIV
  • People with uncontrolled medical conditions such as diabetes, renal failure, liver disease
  • Smokers

Telltale coronavirus COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms of COVID-19 tend to appear with 2 to 14 days of exposure and include the following:

Call your doctor if you have the above symptoms for further medical assistance.

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you have the following:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

How to protect yourself from coronavirus COVID-19

  • Stay home
  • Avoided crowded places
  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid close contact with others who are sick (give yourself 6 feet of space)
  • Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces in your home
  • Avoid traveling by plane or cruise

We do not currently have a vaccine for coronavirus COVID-19. Contact your healthcare provider if you have any concerning symptoms.

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References

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Coronavirus Disease 2019."

United States. Arthritis Foundation. "Coronavirus and Arthritis."