7 Ways to Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Rheumatoid arthritis can take a heavy toll on the body. More common in women over the age of 40, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the body’s joints and tissues. The resulting inflammation leads to pain, swelling, bone erosion and joint deformity. Most people with RA experience symptoms in the small joints of the hands and feet, but rheumatoid arthritis may attack other organs of the body such as the blood vessels, lungs, eyes and even skin.

Nevertheless, with advances of modern medicine, rheumatoid arthritis is a treatable disorder. However, there is no cure for it. Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis involves the controlling of symptoms and prevention of joint damage. Many of the medications used for treating rheumatoid arthritis may produce side effects of serious concern, and because of this, doctors  often prescribe medications with the fewest known side effects before moving on to other medications.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) relieve pain and reduce inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Many people have used these medications because they are available over-the-counter; examples include ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol ) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). Stronger versions of NSAIDs are available by prescription. Typically, stronger doses are required to reduce inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis. The possible side effects of these medications include stomach irritation or bleeding, ringing in the ears, heart problems and, in rare cases, liver and kidney damage. Using NSAIDs for long periods of time increases the risk of harmful side effects.


Corticosteroids such as prednisone can reduce inflammation and pain in order to slow the progression of joint damage. Doctors usually prescribe corticosteroids to relieve acute symptoms and then gradually reduce patients’ dosages until they’re off the medication. Corticosteroids may be taken orally or intravenously through the muscle or joint itself. The use of corticosteroids can cause weight gain (especially around the face), diabetes and the loss of bone density. Steroids can accelerate osteoporosis even in low doses.


Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) may slow down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis in order to save the joints and other tissues from permanent damage. DMARDs function to suppress the immune system entirely. Common DMARDs are hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), leflunomide (Arava), methotrexate (Trexall), and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine). DMARDs may cause liver damage, severe lung infections and suppression of bone marrow. Since DMARDs do not selectively target areas of the body to suppress, the individual taking this medication is open to infection.

Biological agents

Biologics are genetically engineered proteins designed to inhibit the specific parts of the immune system that trigger inflammation. This prevents the damage to joints and tissues that inflammation causes. Biologics can slow down and possibly even stop the progression of Rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, the drugs can also increase an individual’s susceptibility to infections. Biologic response modifiers are a newer class of DMARDs that include tocilizumab (Actemra), rituximab (Rituxan), infliximab (Remicade), golimumab (Simponi), etanercept (Enbral), certolizumab (Cimzia), anakinra (Kineret), adalimumab (Humira) and abatacept (Orencia). A new synthetic DMARD called Tofacitinib (Xeljanz) is available in the United States. Biologic DMARDs are most effective when paired with nonbiologic DMARDs.


When medications fail to prevent or slow down joint damage, then doctors consider surgery as the next logical step in treating rheumatoid arthritis. Surgery can help repair damaged joints in order to make the joints useable again. The surgery can reduce pain in the joint and correct any deformities caused by the rheumatoid arthritis. With any surgery, there is a risk of bleeding, pain or infection.

Total joint replacement surgery involves the removal of damaged parts of the joint. After, a prosthesis made of metal and plastic is inserted into the joint. A joint fusion surgery involves fusing a joint to stabilize or realign a joint to reduce pain when joint replacement is not an option. Tendon repair is performed when tendons around the joint are loose or ruptured as a result of inflammation and joint damage.


Therapy can help to keep joints flexible and make daily tasks easier and less painful to perform. Certain devices can be used to avoid putting stress on painful joints. Specialized tools, like a knife with a saw handle, can protect the wrists and fingers. Physical therapists may also suggest alternative methods for completing routine tasks; for example, using your forearms to lift a small box could spare painful joints in the hands.

Home Remedies

Applying hot or cold packs to a joint can help to relieve pain. Cold can reduce the sensation of pain, while heat can relax tense muscles. Relaxation itself can reduce stress and make dealing with pain easier. Lastly, gentle exercises can strengthen the muscles around joints, but it is best to avoid exercising injured or joints subject to severe inflammation.

Kara is more than just a do-it-all writer; she's also a jetsetter who has experienced cities and cultures around the world! Find Kara on LinkedIn!

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