Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where your body's immune system mistakenly attacks your joints, leading to inflammation, pain, and swelling, often in the hands, wrists, and knees.

The basics

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term autoimmune condition that affects the joints in the body, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. The immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints, leading to damage and discomfort. RA can also affect other organs, including the heart and lungs.

Women are more likely to be affected than men, and it can occur at any age, but it's most commonly diagnosed between 40 and 60 years old.

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The presentation of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) varies widely, but typically involves joint pain, swelling, and stiffness that may last for more than six weeks. RA can affect any joint in the body, but most commonly affects the hands, wrists, and feet. Other common symptoms include fatigue, fever, and weight loss. RA symptoms can come and go, with periods of remission interspersed with flare-ups. Over time, the joints may become deformed and lose function, and RA can also affect other organ systems in the body.

  • Joint pain, swelling, and stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Tenderness and warmth in the joints
  • Morning stiffness that lasts for more than 30 minutes
  • Reduced range of motion in the affected joints
  • Small lumps under the skin near affected joints
  • Eye dryness or pain
  • Dry mouth or difficulty swallowing
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning in the hands and feet.
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Therapies & treatments

Multidisciplinary Pain Care

Rheumatoid arthritis often requires a team-based approach to care, including rheumatologists, primary care physicians, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and social workers. A multidisciplinary team can provide comprehensive care and support for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis.

Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs, such as methotrexate and sulfasalazine, work to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation, which can slow or halt the progression of rheumatoid arthritis.

Biologic Response Modifiers (Biologics)

Biologics, such as TNF inhibitors and interleukin blockers, are a type of medication that target specific components of the immune system that contribute to inflammation and joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, work to reduce inflammation and relieve pain and stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis.


Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, work to reduce inflammation and relieve pain and stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis. They are often used in combination with DMARDs or biologics.


Physical therapy can help improve joint mobility, reduce pain and stiffness, and prevent muscle weakness associated with rheumatoid arthritis. A physical therapist can develop an exercise program tailored to individual needs.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy can help individuals with rheumatoid arthritis improve their ability to perform daily activities, such as dressing, grooming, and cooking, by providing strategies for joint protection and adaptive equipment.

Joint Replacement Surgery

Joint replacement surgery may be necessary in cases of severe joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Hip and knee replacements are the most common types of joint replacements performed.

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Self-care strategies


Regular physical activity can help reduce pain and stiffness, increase range of motion, and improve overall function. Low-impact activities such as swimming, yoga, or walking are particularly beneficial.


Adequate rest is important for managing RA symptoms. It is important to balance activity with rest to avoid overexertion.

Joint protection

Using assistive devices, such as braces or splints, can help protect and support the affected joints.

Hot and cold therapy

Applying heat or cold to affected joints can help reduce pain and inflammation. Heat therapy, such as a warm bath or heating pad, can help soothe sore joints, while cold therapy, such as an ice pack or cold compress, can help reduce inflammation.

Stress management

Stress can exacerbate RA symptoms, so learning stress management techniques such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation can be an effective way to manage pain.

Healthy eating

A healthy diet can help reduce inflammation and promote overall health and wellbeing, which can help manage RA symptoms. It may be helpful to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into your diet, while avoiding processed foods, sugar, and alcohol.

Sleep hygiene

Sleep disturbances are common in individuals with RA, which can exacerbate pain symptoms and negatively impact overall health and wellbeing. Practicing good sleep hygiene, such as establishing a regular sleep schedule, avoiding stimulating activities before bed, and creating a comfortable sleep environment can help improve sleep quality.

Support systems

Building a support network of family, friends, and healthcare professionals can help to provide emotional support and practical assistance in managing pain. Joining support groups and seeking out mental health professionals can also be helpful in managing pain-related stress and improving overall quality of life.

Mind-body therapies

Mind-body therapies such as acupuncture, tai chi, or yoga may help reduce pain and improve overall wellbeing in individuals with RA.


Learning about RA and its management can help individuals better understand their condition and develop effective strategies for managing symptoms. Online resources, support groups, and educational materials provided by healthcare professionals can be helpful in this regard.

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Rheumatoid Arthritis

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