Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Medically Reviewed on 11/20/2023

What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis often causes joint pain and swollen
Understand how your rheumatoid arthritis, as well as the effects and side effects of its treatment, will be monitored.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that develop when the body's immune system attacks its tissues. The immune system contains a complex organization of cells and antibodies designed normally to "seek and destroy" invaders of the body, particularly infections. People with autoimmune diseases have antibodies and immune cells in their blood that target their body tissues, which can be associated with inflammation. It is not known what triggers the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. Regardless of the exact trigger, the result is an immune system that is geared up to promote inflammation in the joints and occasionally other tissues of the body. Immune cells, called lymphocytes, are activated and chemical messengers (cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor/TNF, interleukin-1/IL-1, and interleukin-6/IL-6) are expressed in the inflamed areas.

While joint tissue inflammation and inflammatory arthritis are classic RA features, the disease can also cause extra-articular inflammation and injury in other organs.

Because it can affect multiple other organs of the body, RA is known as a systemic illness and is sometimes called rheumatoid disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis that begins in people under 16 years of age is referred to as juvenile idiopathic arthritis or JIA (formerly juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or JRA).

Osteoarthritis is a noninflammatory joint disease whereby the cartilage of the joint thins, typically asymmetrically -- so only one knee or hand may be affected.

What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

Causes of rheumatoid arthritis
Certain factors increase the risk of RA. The common risk factors are as follows: sex, age, family history, obesity, smoking, and environmental exposures to asbestos or silica.

The cause of the autoimmune reaction in rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. Even though infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi have long been suspected, none has been proven as the cause. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is a very active area of worldwide research.

Does rheumatoid arthritis run in families?

  • It is believed that the tendency to develop rheumatoid arthritis may be genetically inherited (hereditary).
  • Certain genes have been identified that increase the risk for rheumatoid arthritis.
  • It is also suspected that certain infections or factors in the environment might trigger the activation of the immune system in susceptible individuals.

What are 5 common risk factors of rheumatoid arthritis?

  • Sex: Women are at a higher risk of RA than men. The incidence is four to five times higher in women younger than 50 years of age. However, between 60 and 70 years, the female/male ratio is only about 2.
  • Age: RA most commonly begins in middle age. In some cases, RA may begin in teens younger than 16 years (juvenile RA) of age.
  • Family history: A positive family history increases the risk of RA.
  • Obesity: Women younger than 55 years of age with obesity are at a higher risk of RA than men.
  • Smoking and other environmental exposures: Environmental exposure to asbestos or silica and smoking are common risk factors for RA.


The term arthritis refers to stiffness in the joints. See Answer

What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?

Picture of rheumatoid arthritis joint deformity in the feet
Picture of rheumatoid arthritis joint deformity in the feet; Image provided by Getty Images

RA symptoms come and go, depending on the degree of tissue inflammation. When body tissues are inflamed, the disease is active. When tissue inflammation subsides, the disease is inactive (in remission).

Remissions can occur spontaneously or with treatment and can last weeks, months, or years. During remissions, symptoms of the disease disappear, and people generally feel well. When the disease becomes active again (relapse), symptoms return. The return of disease activity and symptoms is called a flare.

The course of rheumatoid arthritis varies among affected individuals, and periods of flares and remissions are typical.

What does rheumatoid arthritis feel like?

When the disease is active, RA symptoms and signs can include:

  • fatigue,
  • loss of energy,
  • lack of appetite,
  • low-grade fever,
  • muscle and joint pain,
  • joint redness,
  • joint swelling,
  • joint tenderness,
  • joint warmth,
  • joint deformity,
  • rheumatoid nodules,
  • stiffness,
  • loss of joint range of motion,
  • loss of joint function, and
  • limping.

People with active inflammation of joints from RA can also experience:

Muscle and joint stiffness are usually most notable in the morning and after periods of inactivity. This is referred to as morning stiffness and post-sedentary stiffness. Arthritis is common during disease flares. Also, during flares, joints frequently become warm, red, swollen, painful, and tender. This occurs because the lining tissue of the joint (synovium) becomes inflamed, resulting in the production of excessive joint fluid (synovial fluid). The synovium also thickens with inflammation (synovitis).

How serious is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis usually inflames multiple joints and affects both sides of the body. In its most common form, therefore, it is referred to as asymmetric polyarthritis.

  • Early rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may be subtle.
  • The small joints of both the hands and wrists are often involved.
  • Early symptoms of RA can be painful and prolonged stiffness of joints, particularly in the morning.
  • Symptoms in the hands with rheumatoid arthritis include difficulty with simple tasks of daily living, such as turning doorknobs and opening jars.
  • The small joints of the feet are also commonly involved, which can lead to painful walking, especially in the morning after arising from bed.
  • Occasionally, only one joint is inflamed. When only one joint is involved, arthritis can mimic the joint inflammation caused by other forms of arthritis, such as gout or joint infection.
  • Chronic inflammation can cause damage to body tissues, including cartilage and bone. This leads to a loss of cartilage and erosion and weakness of the bones as well as the muscles, resulting in joint deformity, loss of range of motion, destruction, and loss of function.
  • Rarely, rheumatoid arthritis can even affect the joint that is responsible for the tightening of our vocal cords to change the tone of our voice, the cricoarytenoid joint. When this joint is inflamed, it can cause hoarseness of the voice.
  • Symptoms in children with rheumatoid arthritis include limping, irritability, crying, and poor appetite.

Diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis

There is no singular test for diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis. The diagnosis is based on the clinical presentation.

What are the diagnostic criteria for rheumatoid arthritis?

  • Presentation of the joints involved
  • Characteristic joint swelling and stiffness in the morning
  • The presence of blood rheumatoid factor (RF blood test or RA test) and citrulline antibody
  • The presence of rheumatoid nodules and radiographic changes (X-ray testing)

Understand that many forms of joint disease mimic rheumatoid arthritis.

  • The first step in the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is a meeting between the doctor and the patient. The doctor reviews the history of symptoms. Then the doctor checks the joints for inflammation, tenderness, swelling, and deformity and looks for rheumatoid skin nodules. Rheumatoid nodules are firm lumps or bumps under the skin, most commonly over the elbows or fingers). The doctor will also check other parts of the body for inflammation. Certain blood and X-ray tests are often obtained. The diagnosis will be based on the pattern of symptoms, the distribution of the inflamed joints, and the blood and X-ray findings. Several visits may be necessary before the doctor can be certain of the diagnosis. A doctor with special training in arthritis and related diseases is called a rheumatologist.
  • Joint inflammation helps to distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from common types of arthritis that are not inflammatory, such as osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis. The distribution of joint inflammation is also important to the doctor in making a diagnosis. In rheumatoid arthritis, the small joints of the hands and fingers, wrists, feet, and knees are typically inflamed in a symmetrical distribution (affecting both sides of the body). When only one or two joints are inflamed, the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis becomes more difficult. The doctor may then perform other tests to exclude arthritis due to infection or gout. The detection of rheumatoid nodules (described above), most often around the elbows and fingers, can suggest the diagnosis.
  • Abnormal antibodies can be found in the blood of people with rheumatoid arthritis with simple blood testing. An antibody called "rheumatoid factor" (RF) can be found in 80% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis and rheumatoid factor are referred to as having "seropositive rheumatoid arthritis." Patients who are felt to have rheumatoid arthritis and do not have positive rheumatoid factor testing are referred to as having "seronegative rheumatoid arthritis."
  • Citrulline antibody (also referred to as anti-citrulline antibody, anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody, and anti-CCP antibody) is present in 50%-75% of people with rheumatoid arthritis. It is useful in the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis when evaluating cases of unexplained joint inflammation. A test for anti-citrullinated protein antibodies helps in looking for the cause of previously undiagnosed inflammatory arthritis when the rheumatoid factor is not present. Citrulline antibodies have been felt to represent the earlier stages of rheumatoid arthritis in this setting. Citrulline antibodies also have been associated with more aggressive forms of rheumatoid arthritis. Another antibody called the "antinuclear antibody" (ANA) is also frequently found in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
  • It should be noted that many forms of arthritis in childhood (juvenile inflammatory arthritis) are not associated with blood test positivity for rheumatoid factors. In this setting, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis must be distinguished from other types of joint inflammation. These include plant thorn arthritis, joint injury, arthritis of inflammatory bowel disease, and rarely joint tumors.
  • A blood test called the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (sed rate) is a crude measure of the inflammation of the joints. The sed rate measures how fast red blood cells fall to the bottom of a test tube. The sed rate is usually faster (high) during disease flares and slower (low) during remissions. Another blood test that is used to measure the degree of inflammation present in the body is the C-reactive protein (CRP). Blood testing may also reveal anemia, since anemia is common in rheumatoid arthritis, particularly because of chronic inflammation.
  • The rheumatoid factor, ANA, sed rate, and C-reactive protein (CRP) tests can also be abnormal in other systemic autoimmune and inflammatory medical conditions. Therefore, abnormalities in these blood tests alone are not sufficient for a firm diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Joint X-rays may be normal or only show swelling of soft tissues early in the disease. As the disease progresses, X-rays can reveal bony erosions typical of rheumatoid arthritis in the joints. Joint X-rays can also help monitor the progression of the disease and joint damage over time. Bone scanning, a procedure using a small amount of a radioactive substance, can also be used to show inflamed joints. MRI scanning can also be used to show joint damage.
  • The doctor may elect to perform an office procedure called arthrocentesis. In this procedure, a sterile needle and syringe are used to drain joint fluid out of the joint for study in the laboratory. Analysis of the joint fluid in the laboratory can help to exclude other causes of arthritis, such as infection and gout. Arthrocentesis can also help relieve joint swelling and pain. Occasionally, cortisone medicines are injected into the joint during arthrocentesis to rapidly relieve joint inflammation and further reduce symptoms.

Is there a genetic marker for rheumatoid arthritis?

Four known genetic markers associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) include:

  1. Human leukocyte antigens: The most common and significant genetic mutation associated with RA.
  2. Signal transducer and activator of transcription 4 (STAT4): Responsible for the regulation and activation of the immune system.
  3. Tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated factors (TRAF1/C5): Have a major role in chronic inflammation.
  4. Protein tyrosine phosphatase 22 (PTPN22) genes: Influence the progression and expression of RA.

What specialists treat rheumatoid arthritis?

The primary specialist for diagnosing, managing, and monitoring rheumatoid arthritis is a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist works together with the primary doctor and other specialists to maximize health outcomes and minimize comorbid health conditions.

Other specialists involved in the care of RA patients include the following:

  • physiatrists
  • dermatologists
  • pulmonologists
  • cardiologists
  • nephrologists
  • radiologists
  • neurologists
  • endocrinologists
  • orthopedists
  • general surgeons

Ancillary health care providers who can be involved in the care of patients with rheumatoid arthritis include physical therapists, occupational therapists, and massage therapists.

What are the four stages of rheumatoid arthritis?

The American College of Rheumatology has developed a system for classifying rheumatoid arthritis that is primarily based on the X-ray appearance of the joints. This system helps medical professionals classify the severity of your rheumatoid arthritis concerning cartilage, ligaments, and bone. The system defines the four stages of RA as follows:

Stage I (early RA)

  • No damage was seen on X-rays, although there may be signs of bone thinning

Stage II (moderate progressive)

  • On X-ray, evidence of bone thinning around a joint with or without slight bone damage
  • Slight cartilage damage is possible
  • Joint mobility may be limited; no joint deformities were observed
  • Atrophy of adjacent muscle
  • Abnormalities of soft tissue around the joint are possible

Stage III (severe progression)

  • On X-ray, evidence of cartilage and bone damage and bone thinning around the joint
  • Joint deformity without permanent stiffening or fixation of the joint
  • Extensive muscle atrophy
  • Abnormalities of soft tissue around the joint are possible

Stage IV (terminal progression)

  • On X-ray, evidence of cartilage and bone damage and osteoporosis around joint
  • Joint deformity with permanent fixation of the joint (referred to as ankylosis)
  • Extensive muscle atrophy
  • Abnormalities of soft tissue around the joint are possible

Rheumatologists also classify the functional status of people with rheumatoid arthritis as follows:

  • Class I: completely able to perform usual activities of daily living
  • Class II: able to perform usual self-care and work activities but limited in activities outside of work (such as playing sports, and household chores)
  • Class III: able to perform usual self-care activities but limited in work and other activities
  • Class IV: limited in ability to perform usual self-care, work, and other activities

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What are the treatments for rheumatoid arthritis?

  • There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis.
  • To date, the goal of treatment in rheumatoid arthritis is to reduce joint inflammation and pain, maximize joint function, and prevent joint destruction and deformity.
  • Early medical intervention has been shown to be important in improving outcomes.
  • Aggressive management can improve function, stop damage to joints as monitored on X-rays and prevent work disability.
  • Optimal RA treatment involves a combination of medicines, rest, joint-strengthening exercises, joint protection, and patient (and family) education.
  • Treatment is customized according to many factors such as disease activity, types of joints involved, general health, age, and patient occupation.
  • RA treatment is most successful when there is close cooperation between the doctor, patient, and family members.

What are types of rheumatoid arthritis medications?

Two classes of medicines are used in treating rheumatoid arthritis: fast-acting "first-line drugs" and slow-acting "second-line drugs" (also referred to as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs or DMARDs).

  • The first-line drugs, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin and cortisone (corticosteroids are used to reduce pain and inflammation).
  • The slow-acting second-line drugs promote disease remission and prevent progressive joint destruction.

The degree of the destructiveness of RA varies among affected individuals. Those with less destructive RA or disease that has quieted after many active years can manage their RA with rest plus pain control and anti-inflammatory drugs. Early treatment with second-line drugs (DMARD) improves function and minimizes disability and joint destruction, even within months of the diagnosis. Most people require more aggressive second-line drugs, such as methotrexate, in addition to anti-inflammatory agents. Sometimes these second-line drugs are used in combination.

  • The areas of the body other than the joints that are affected by rheumatoid inflammation are treated individually. Sjögren's syndrome can be helped by artificial tears and humidifying rooms in the home or office. Medicated eye drops such as cyclosporine ophthalmic drops (Restasis) and lifitegrast ophthalmic drops (Xiidra) are also available to help the dry eyes in those affected. Regular eye checkups and early antibiotic treatment for infection of the eyes are important. Inflammation of the tendons (tendinitis), bursae (bursitis), and rheumatoid nodules can be injected with cortisone. Inflammation of the lining of the heart and/or lungs may require high doses of oral cortisone.
  • In some cases, with severe joint deformity, surgery may be recommended to restore joint mobility or repair damaged joints. Doctors who specialize in joint surgery are orthopedic surgeons. The types of joint surgery range from arthroscopy to partial and complete replacement of the joint. Arthroscopy is a surgical technique whereby a doctor inserts a tube-like instrument into the joint to see and repair abnormal tissues.
  • Total joint replacement is a surgical procedure whereby a destroyed joint is replaced with artificial materials. For example, the small joints of the hand can be replaced with plastic material. Large joints, such as the hips or knees, are replaced with metals.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications for rheumatoid arthritis

Acetylsalicylate (aspirin), naproxen (Naprosyn), ibuprofen (Advil, Medipren, Motrin), etodolac (Lodine), and diclofenac (Voltaren) are examples of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

  • NSAIDs are medicines that can reduce tissue inflammation, pain, and swelling.
  • NSAIDs are not cortisone. Aspirin, in doses higher than those used in treating headaches and fever, is an effective anti-inflammatory medication for rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Aspirin has been used for joint problems since the ancient Egyptian era.
  • The newer NSAIDs are just as effective as aspirin in reducing inflammation and pain and require fewer dosages per day.
  • Patients' responses to different NSAID medicines vary. Therefore, it is not unusual for a medical professional to try several NSAID drugs in order to identify the most effective agent with the fewest side effects.
  • The most common side effects of aspirin and other NSAIDs include stomach upset, abdominal pain, ulcers, and even gastrointestinal bleeding.
    • In order to reduce gastrointestinal side effects, NSAIDs are usually taken with food. Additional medicines are frequently recommended to protect the stomach from the ulcer effects of NSAIDs.
    • These medicines include antacids, sucralfate (Carafate), proton-pump inhibitors (Prevacid and others), and misoprostol (Cytotec).
    • Newer NSAIDs include selective Cox-2 inhibitors, such as celecoxib (Celebrex), which offer anti-inflammatory effects with less risk of stomach irritation and bleeding risk.

Corticosteroid medicines can be given orally or injected directly into joints (intra-articular injections) and tissues. They are more potent than NSAIDs in reducing inflammation and in restoring joint mobility and function.

  • Corticosteroids are useful for short periods during severe flares of disease activity or when the disease is not responding to NSAIDs.
  • However, corticosteroids can have serious side effects, especially when given in high doses for long periods of time.
    • These side effects include weight gain, facial puffiness, thinning of the skin and bone, easy bruising, cataracts, risk of infection, muscle wasting, and destruction of large joints, such as the hips.
  • Corticosteroids also carry an increased risk of contracting infections.
    • These side effects can be partially avoided by gradually tapering the doses of corticosteroids as the patient achieves improvement in symptoms.
  • Abruptly discontinuing corticosteroids can lead to flares of the disease or other symptoms of corticosteroid withdrawal and is discouraged.

Second-line (slow-acting) rheumatoid arthritis medications

While "first-line" medicines (NSAIDs and corticosteroids) can relieve joint inflammation and pain, they do not necessarily prevent joint destruction or deformity. Rheumatoid arthritis requires medicines other than NSAIDs and corticosteroids to stop progressive damage to cartilage, bone, and adjacent soft tissues.

  • The RA medicines needed for the ideal management of the disease are also referred to as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs or DMARDs.
  • These "second-line" or "slow-acting" medicines may take weeks to months to become effective. They are used for long periods, even years, at varying doses.
  • If maximally effective, DMARDs can promote remission, thereby retarding the progression of joint destruction and deformity.
  • Sometimes several DMARD second-line medicines are used together as combination therapy.
  • As with the first-line medicines, the doctor may need to try different second-line medicines before treatment is optimal.

Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is related to quinine and has also been used in the treatment of malaria. It is used over long periods for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Possible side effects include upset stomach, skin rashes, muscle weakness, and vision changes. Even though vision changes are rare, people taking Plaquenil should be monitored by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist).

Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) is an oral medication traditionally used in the treatment of mild to moderately severe inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's colitis. Azulfidine is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis in combination with anti-inflammatory medicines. Azulfidine is generally well tolerated.

  • Common side effects include rash and upset stomach. Because Azulfidine is made up of sulfa and salicylate compounds, it should be avoided by people with known sulfa allergies.

Methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall, Otrexup, Rasuvo) has gained popularity among doctors as an initial second-line drug because of its effectiveness and infrequent side effects.

  • It also has an advantage in dose flexibility (dosages can be adjusted according to needs).
  • Methotrexate is an immunosuppressive drug. It can affect the bone marrow and the liver, even rarely causing cirrhosis.
  • All people taking methotrexate require regular blood tests to monitor blood counts and liver function.
  • Taking folic acid as a supplement can reduce the risk of methotrexate side effects.

Gold salts were used to treat rheumatoid arthritis throughout most of the past century. Gold the glucose (Solganal) and gold thiomalate (Myochrysine) are given by injection, initially weekly, for months to years. Oral gold, auranofin (Ridaura), was introduced in the 1980s.

  • Side effects of gold (oral and injectable) include skin rash, mouth sores, kidney damage with leakage of protein in the urine, and bone marrow damage with anemia and low white cell count.
  • Those receiving gold treatment are regularly monitored with blood and urine tests.
  • Oral gold can cause diarrhea.
  • These gold drugs have lost favor in the treatment of RA because of the availability of more effective treatments, particularly methotrexate.

Immunosuppressive medicines are powerful medicines that suppress the body's immune system. Several immunosuppressive drugs are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. They include methotrexate as described above, azathioprine (Imuran), and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan). Immunosuppressive medicines can depress bone marrow function and cause anemia, a low white cell count, and low platelet counts. A low white count can increase the risk of infections, while a low platelet count can increase the risk of bleeding. Methotrexate rarely can lead to liver cirrhosis, as described above, and allergic reactions in the lung. Because of potentially serious side effects, immunosuppressive medicines are used in low doses, usually in combination with anti-inflammatory agents.

Leflunomide (Arava) is available to relieve the symptoms and halt the progression of the disease. It seems to work by blocking the action of an important enzyme that has a role in immune activation. Leflunomide can cause liver disease, diarrhea, hair loss, and/or rash in some people. It should not be taken just before or during pregnancy because of possible birth defects and is generally avoided in women who might become pregnant.

Etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (remicade), and adalimumab (Humira) are examples of biologic drugs that intercept tumor necrosis factor (TNF) in the joints; TNF promotes joint inflammation in RA. These TNF-blockers intercept TNF before it can act on its natural receptor to "switch on" the process of inflammation. This effectively blocks the TNF inflammation messenger from recruiting the cells of inflammation. Symptoms can be significant, and often rapidly, improved in those using these drugs.

Anakinra (Kineret) is another biologic DMARD treatment that is used to treat moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. Anakinra works by binding to a cell messenger protein (IL-1, a pro-inflammatory cytokine). Anakinra is injected under the skin daily. Anakinra can be used alone or with other DMARDs.

Rituximab (Rituxan) is an antibody that was first used to treat lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. Rituximab can be effective in treating autoimmune diseases like RA because it depletes B-cells. These are important cells of inflammation that produce abnormal antibodies that are common in these medical conditions. Rituximab is used to treat moderate to severely active rheumatoid arthritis in patients who have failed treatment with TNF-blocking biologics.

Tofacitinib (Xeljanz) is the first in a newer class of medicines used to treat rheumatoid arthritis called JAK inhibitors. Baricitinib (Olumiant) and upadacitinib (Rinvoq) are also JAK inhibitors. Tofacitinib, baricitinib, and upadacitinib treat adults with moderately to severely active RA in which methotrexate did not work well and who have failed a TNF-blocker biologic.

What is the prognosis for rheumatoid arthritis? Is there a cure for RA?

  • With early, aggressive treatment, the outlook for those affected by rheumatoid arthritis can be very good.
  • The overall attitude regarding the ability to control the disease has changed tremendously since the turn of the century. Doctors now strive to eradicate any signs of active disease while preventing flare-ups.
  • The disease can be controlled and a cooperative effort by the doctor and patient can lead to optimal health.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis causes disability and can increase mortality and decrease life expectancy leading to early death.
  • Patients have a less favorable outlook when they have deformity, disability, ongoing uncontrolled joint inflammation, and/or rheumatoid disease affecting other organs of the body.
  • Overall, rheumatoid arthritis tends to be potentially more damaging when rheumatoid factor or citrulline antibody is shown by blood testing. Life expectancy improves with earlier treatment and monitoring.
  • Finally, minimizing emotional stress can help improve the overall health of people with rheumatoid arthritis. Support and extracurricular groups provide those with rheumatoid arthritis time to discuss their problems with others and learn more about their illness.

Rheumatoid arthritis is not a curable disease at this time. As the science of genetics and disease, as well as autoimmunity, evolve, it is very likely that cures for rheumatoid arthritis will become available.

What are the complications of rheumatoid arthritis?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Nerves can become pinched in the wrists to cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

Since rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, its inflammation can affect organs and areas of the body other than the joints.

  • Arthritis-related inflammation of the glands of the eyes and mouth can cause dryness in these areas and is referred to as Sjögren's syndrome. Dryness of the eyes can lead to corneal abrasion.
  • Inflammation of the white parts of the eyes (the sclerae) is referred to as scleritis and can be very dangerous to the eye.
  • Rheumatoid inflammation of the lung lining (pleuritis) causes chest pain with deep breathing, shortness of breath, or coughing. The lung tissue itself can also become inflamed and scarred, and sometimes nodules of inflammation (rheumatoid nodules) develop within the lungs.
  • Inflammation of the tissue (pericardium) surrounding the heart, called pericarditis, can cause chest pain that typically changes in intensity when lying down or leaning forward.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with an increased risk of a heart attack.
  • The rheumatoid disease can reduce the number of red blood cells (anemia) and white blood cells.
  • Decreased white cells can be associated with an enlarged spleen (referred to as Felty's syndrome) and can increase the risk of infections.
  • The risk of lymph gland cancer (lymphoma) is higher in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, especially in those with sustained active joint inflammation.
  • Firm lumps or firm bumps under the skin (subcutaneous nodules called rheumatoid nodules) can occur around the elbows and fingers where there is frequent pressure. Even though these nodules usually do not cause symptoms, occasionally they can become infected.
  • Nerves can become pinched in the wrists to cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • A rare, serious complication, usually with longstanding rheumatoid disease, is blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis). Vasculitis can impair blood supply to tissues and lead to tissue death (necrosis). This is most often initially visible as tiny black areas around the nail beds or as leg ulcers.

Is it possible to prevent rheumatoid arthritis?

Currently, there is no specific prevention of rheumatoid arthritis. Because cigarette smoking, exposure to silica minerals, and chronic periodontal disease all increase the risk for rheumatoid arthritis, these conditions should be avoided.

Rheumatoid arthritis diet, exercise, therapy, home remedies, and alternative therapy

There is no special RA diet or diet "cure" for rheumatoid arthritis. However, it is thought that a healthy diet is an important complement to medication in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Research is suggesting that the different kinds of bacteria in our intestines (microbiome) have a big impact on rheumatoid arthritis.

What foods worsen rheumatoid arthritis?

What type of diet is recommended for people with rheumatoid arthritis?

Diets higher in fish, grains, and vegetables decrease the risk of developing RA. The Western diet, defined as including more processed meats, increases the risk. It is not certain whether this is because of a direct anti-inflammatory effect of the fish, grains, and vegetables or because of changes in the natural bacteria in the gut.

Some home remedies may be helpful, although these are not considered as potent or effective as disease-modifying drugs. Fish oils, such as salmon, and omega-3 fatty acids supplements are beneficial in some short-term studies in rheumatoid arthritis. This suggests that there may be benefits to adding more fish to the diet, such as in the popular Mediterranean diet. The anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin in dietary turmeric, an ingredient in curry, may be beneficial in reducing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Diets and food recommendations for people with rheumatoid arthritis

  • Elimination diet
  • Anti-inflammatory diet
  • Mediterranean diet
  • Iron-rich foods
  • Calcium-rich foods
  • Oily fish

Supplements for rheumatoid arthritis

Supplements such as calcium and vitamin D prevent osteoporosis in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Folic acid is used as a supplement to prevent the side effects of methotrexate treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Alcohol is minimized or avoided in rheumatoid arthritis patients taking methotrexate.

The benefits of cartilage preparations such as glucosamine and chondroitin for rheumatoid arthritis remain unproven. Symptomatic pain relief can often be achieved with oral acetaminophen (Tylenol) or over-the-counter topical preparations, which are rubbed into the skin. Antibiotics, in particular the tetracycline drug minocycline (Minocin), have been tried for rheumatoid arthritis recently in clinical trials. Early results have shown mild to moderate improvement in the symptoms of arthritis. Minocycline has been shown to impede important mediator enzymes of tissue destruction, called metalloproteinases, in the laboratory as well as in humans.

Exercises and home remedies for rheumatoid arthritis

Impact-loading joints can aggravate inflamed, active RA; it's also difficult when joints have been injured in the past by the disease. So, it is important to customize activities and exercise programs according to each individual's capacity. Physical therapy can be helpful. Exercises that are less traumatic for the joints, including yoga and tai chi, can be beneficial in maintaining flexibility and strength. They also lead to an improved general sense of well-being.

Regular exercise is vital in maintaining joint mobility and strengthening the muscles around the joints. Swimming is particularly helpful because it allows exercise with minimal stress on the joints. Physical and occupational therapists are trained to provide specific exercise instructions and can offer splinting supports. For example, wrist and finger splints can help reduce inflammation and maintain joint alignment. Devices such as canes, toilet seat raisers, and jar grippers can assist in the activities of daily living. Heat and cold applications are modalities that can ease symptoms before and after exercise.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/20/2023
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