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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in joints. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. 

Rheumatoid arthritis mainly affects the linings of your joints, but it may attack organs. Symptoms sometimes make simple tasks like walking or opening a jar difficult.

As it progresses, RA can cause joint deformity and even lead to disability.

Rheumatoid arthritis: what you should know

  • Doctors believe some immune system genes increase your chances of getting rheumatoid arthritis. Environmental factors and hormones then trigger the disease.
  • People with RA are at increased risk for other serious conditions, including the following:
  • Rheumatoid arthritis cannot be prevented.
  • Smoking may make treatments for RA less effective.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that can progress in one of the following ways:
    • One episode lasting two to five years after diagnosis then does not reoccur
    • Varying episodes, each with different severity of symptoms
    • Unrelenting symptoms that increase in severity

How can I get help for rheumatoid arthritis?

The earlier you are diagnosed, the better chance you have of controlling RA. 

  • Early rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Very early signs of rheumatoid arthritis often look like other diseases, making early diagnosis tricky. Tell your doctor if you have any of the following:
    • Weakness
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle soreness
    • Weight loss
  • Primary symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include the following:
    • Painful, stiff and swollen joints, especially in your wrist or fingers
    • Tendon ruptures, meaning you cannot bend or straighten your fingers
    • Dramatic deformities of your fingers and wrists
    • Fever and flu-like symptoms

If you have RA, you will be referred to a rheumatologist at the Rush Rheumatoid Arthritis Clinic.

Care for rheumatoid arthritis at Rush

At the Rush Rheumatoid Arthritis Clinic, rheumatologists collaborate with other specialists for your care. Their goal is to make your treatment easy, coordinated and comfortable. Your treatment plan may include one or more of the following:

Lifestyle changes for rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatologists at Rush encourage you to learn about RA and take control of your symptoms by doing some or all of the following:

  • Working with a physical therapist or occupational therapist
  • Using splints to support damaged joints
  • Coping with stress
  • Balancing rest and exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet and limiting alcohol
  • Quitting smoking
  • Joining support groups

Medications for rheumatoid arthritis

Specialists at the clinic will work with you to create a personalized medication regimen, which may include the following:

  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs that slow the course of the disease
  • Biologics that reduce RA-specific inflammation and structural damage issues

Surgery for rheumatoid arthritis

Sometimes medications are not enough to manage your pain and maintain flexibility, and you may be referred to an orthopedic surgeon at Rush to discuss surgical options.

  • Joint replacement: Orthopedic surgeons at Rush are worldwide leaders in joint replacement surgery, including these procedures:
  • Arthroscopy: This minimally invasive procedure is performed by making small incisions into the shoulder and using a fiberoptic camera to view the interior of the joint.
  • Arthrodesis (also known as joint fusion): This procedure involves removing damaged joints and fusing your bones together. It is most often used in the ankles and wrists but can be performed on other joints.
  • Tendon reconstruction: Orthopedic surgeons at Rush can reconstruct tendons that have been damaged by RA.

Why choose Rush for rheumatoid arthritis care

  • Rush is an academic medical center with a thriving research program, so patients often have the opportunity to participate in clinical trials that evaluate innovative new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.
  • If you need joint replacement for rheumatoid arthritis, you are in highly capable hands. Orthopedic surgeons at Rush are among the most experienced joint replacement surgeons in the U.S., performing around 3,800 combined hip replacements and knee replacements each year.
  • Orthopedic surgeons with the Hand, Elbow and Shoulder Surgery Program at Rush were among the first in Illinois to offer joint replacement for the wrist and hand.

Departments and programs that treat this condition