Rheumatoid Arthritis

Relief for painful joints so you can move freely again

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects the joints, causing pain and swelling. The most common sites of inflammation are the wrists and hands, but other locations, such as the feet, knees and shoulders, can also be affected.

When you have rheumatoid arthritis, your body’s immune system, which normally attacks bacteria, viruses and other invaders, begins to treat your joint tissues as foreign material. This autoimmune process causes painful inflammation that can cause significant damage to your bones, cartilage and tendons over time.

Researchers believe rheumatoid arthritis develops as a result of genetic and environmental factors. Although the condition most often begins in middle-age, it is possible to have your first symptoms when you are younger or older.

Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term condition that can follow any of several courses. Some people experience one bout that does not recur, others have periodic flare-ups and still others have constant symptoms.

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your symptoms may include:

  • Bumps, called rheumatoid nodules, that develop on affected joints
  • Difficulty with movements that involve gripping
  • Lack of energy
  • Joint stiffness, especially in the morning
  • Periodic fevers
  • Problems completing daily activities, such as typing, dressing and cooking.
  • Restricted movement

In addition to these symptoms, rheumatoid arthritis can cause damage to your heart, lungs and other organs.

Symptoms generally occur in a symmetric pattern, meaning if you have inflammation in a joint on one side of the body, you will also have it in the same joint on the other side.

Early identification and treatment of the condition may lead to a less severe disease course. Diagnosis is based on medical history and physical examination along with testing such as X-ray, joint aspiration, biopsy and blood work.

Diagnosis

Early identification and treatment of the condition may lead to a less severe disease course. Diagnosis is based on medical history and physical examination along with testing such as X-ray, joint aspiration, biopsy and blood work.

Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, treatment may help relieve your symptoms and delay or prevent joint damage. IU Health physicians offer treatment for all stages and severity levels of rheumatoid arthritis, even when symptoms are complex or hard to define. With proper treatment, most patients can enjoy an active lifestyle. Many can enter remission.

Treatment may include:

Education

IU Health professionals can help you use diet and exercise to reduce inflammation and manage symptoms.

Disease-modifying Anti-rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs are a mainstay of rheumatoid arthritis treatment. They can ease symptoms, delay the course of the disease and improve your quality of life.

Biologic Response Modifiers

These genetically engineered medications, which are also DMARDs, are used for severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis. They disrupt the immune system responses that lead to joint inflammation.

Other Medicines

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and oral or injectable low-dose corticosteroids can help to alleviate symptoms such as pain and swelling.

Physical Therapy

An individualized exercise plan designed by IU Health physical therapists can help you to build flexibility and strength and avoid further joint problems.

Surgery

If you have severe joint damage, surgery can often help to restore function and relieve pain. Options include joint cleaning to remove inflamed tissue, joint replacement (also called arthroplasty) to place an artificial joint and joint fusion to join two bones.

Treatment

Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, treatment may help relieve your symptoms and delay or prevent joint damage. IU Health physicians offer treatment for all stages and severity levels of rheumatoid arthritis, even when symptoms are complex or hard to define. With proper treatment, most patients can enjoy an active lifestyle. Many can enter remission.

Treatment may include:

Education

IU Health professionals can help you use diet and exercise to reduce inflammation and manage symptoms.

Disease-modifying Anti-rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs are a mainstay of rheumatoid arthritis treatment. They can ease symptoms, delay the course of the disease and improve your quality of life.

Biologic Response Modifiers

These genetically engineered medications, which are also DMARDs, are used for severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis. They disrupt the immune system responses that lead to joint inflammation.

Other Medicines

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and oral or injectable low-dose corticosteroids can help to alleviate symptoms such as pain and swelling.

Physical Therapy

An individualized exercise plan designed by IU Health physical therapists can help you to build flexibility and strength and avoid further joint problems.

Surgery

If you have severe joint damage, surgery can often help to restore function and relieve pain. Options include joint cleaning to remove inflamed tissue, joint replacement (also called arthroplasty) to place an artificial joint and joint fusion to join two bones.

Patient Stories for Rheumatoid Arthritis

American College of Rheumatology

This group, representing rheumatologists and other rheumatology professionals, highlights the basics of rheumatoid arthritis and details newer treatment options.

Arthritis Foundation

This nonprofit organization provides advice and information for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Resources

American College of Rheumatology

This group, representing rheumatologists and other rheumatology professionals, highlights the basics of rheumatoid arthritis and details newer treatment options.

Arthritis Foundation

This nonprofit organization provides advice and information for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.