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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

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Unlike osteoarthritis, a condition caused by wear and tear on joints, rheumatoid arthritis happens when your immune system targets your joint linings. It’s a long-term condition that also affects other tissue, but the joints are usually the most severely affected. Doctors don’t know exactly what causes RA. It may be a combination of genes and other things. Some researchers think an infection with a bacteria or virus can trigger the disease in some people, but so far, they don’t know what virus or...

Read the What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis? 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:

Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

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.

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