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Rheumatoid Arthritis Medication Guide

Rheumatoid Arthritis Facts

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic (long-term) disease causing inflammation (swelling and pain) of the joints, such as the elbows, shoulders, wrists, fingers, knees, feet, or ankles. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis typically occur in a symmetric pattern, meaning that both sides of the body are affected at the same time. Other common symptoms include fatigue, malaise (an overall feeling of being unwell), and morning stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis is frequently abbreviated as RA.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes

The precise cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. Although infection has been considered likely, no bacterial or viral organism has been proven responsible. Rheumatoid arthritis is also associated with a number of autoimmune reactions (immune responses misdirected at one's own body, instead of at an outside organism), but whether the autoimmune reactions cause rheumatoid arthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis causes the autoimmune reactions, is not known. A significant genetic (hereditary) factor exists in most patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Risks and Side Effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis causes joint damage, leads to considerable disability, and shortens life span. The disability may be so severe that individuals cannot work and movement and independent living are very limited. Life span is shortened by about five to 10 years in people whose conditions do not respond well to treatment. The risk of early death is increased by complications such as infections, cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease, or gastrointestinal bleeding. These complications may be due to rheumatoid arthritis or to side effects from the medications used to treat it.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment and Medications

Knowing as much as possible about rheumatoid arthritis helps people learn to cope with the problems it causes. Exercise can help to improve and sustain range of motion, increase muscle strength, and reduce pain. Learning how to use joints and tendons efficiently can reduce stress and tension on the joints.

Drug therapy for rheumatoid arthritis has improved so much that it can now slow disease progression, preventing joint damage and loss of function. The earlier that treatment is started, the better the chance to slow disease progression and prevent damage and loss of function.

People who are severely disabled by rheumatoid arthritis may require orthopedic surgery for joint reconstruction or replacement with manufactured joints (prostheses). Pain relievers may be used occasionally. Such drugs include acetaminophen (Tylenol), tramadol (Ultram), or narcotic-containing pain relievers. These drugs do not reduce joint swelling or damage.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/14/2016
RA pain in the hand

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms and Signs

What are Symptoms and Signs of RA?

  • Stiffness
  • Inflammation
  • Swelling
  • Nodules: These are hard bumps that appear on or near the joint.
  • Pain
  • Malaise (a "blah" feeling)
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Myalgias (muscle aches)
  • Weakness or loss of energy

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Rheumatoid Arthritis »

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic systemic inflammatory disease of unknown cause that primarily affects the peripheral joints in a symmetric pattern.

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