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Rheumatoid Arthritis - Treatment Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis is most often treated with medicine, exercise, and lifestyle changes. Treatment may help relieve symptoms and control the disease, but there is no cure. Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis usually continues throughout your life, but it will vary depending on:

  • The stage (active or in remission) and severity of your disease.
  • Your treatment history.
  • The benefits and risks of treatment options.
  • Your preferences for treatment options, such as cost, side effects, and daily schedules.

The goal of treatment is to help you maintain your lifestyle, reduce joint pain, slow joint damage, and prevent disability.

Recommended Related to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug Guide

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a progressive inflammatory disease that affects the joints. It gets worse over time unless the inflammation is stopped or slowed. Only in very rare cases does rheumatoid arthritis go into remission without treatment.  Arthritis medications play an essential role in controlling the progression and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Starting treatment soon after diagnosis is most effective. And the best medical care combines rheumatoid arthritis medications and other approaches...

Read the Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug Guide article > >

Making a plan

Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis should start with education about the disease, the possibility of joint damage and disability, and the risks and benefits of potential treatments. A long-term treatment plan should be developed by you and your team of doctors.

Treatment with medicines

Early and ongoing treatment of RA with medicines called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can slow or sometimes prevent joint destruction.2 Other medicines may be combined with DMARDs to relieve symptoms. These medicines include:

For more information, see Medications.

Lifelong care

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis usually continues throughout your life. Your doctor will want to closely monitor your condition. A rheumatologist should evaluate you regularly. Depending on your symptoms and treatment, this could be done as often as every 2 to 3 months or every 6 to 12 months. Testing, such as blood tests, may be done more often.

During each follow-up visit, your doctor will assess:

  • The amount of joint pain.
  • How long morning stiffness lasts.
  • The number of actively inflamed joints.
  • How well you are functioning.
  • Results of lab tests.

In some cases, the disease does not respond to the first several treatments. When this happens, the disease may be treated with much higher doses of medicines or with different combinations of medicines.

Surgery may be considered when the joints—especially the hips, knees, or feet—are severely damaged or deformed and are causing extreme pain. Surgery may include total joint replacement or other techniques to improve joint function. For more information, see Surgery and Other Treatment.

Exercise and lifestyle changes

Exercise, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes can help relieve joint pain. Many people with RA benefit from self-care plans that balance rest and activity. You can take steps at home to relieve your symptoms and help control your disease. For more information, see Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis.

More information

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 08, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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