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June 2019

Get Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis Sooner, Not Later

Older woman feeling her hand, in pain

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease in which your immune system attacks your own joints by mistake. It can start at any age, but the risk is highest in your 60s. If you have been diagnosed with RA, your health care provider may prescribe:

  • A disease-modifying antirheumatic medicine (DMARD) to slow the disease’s progress and help prevent more joint damage

  • Lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, balancing activity with rest, and quitting smoking. These help reduce joint pain and disability.

Early treatment matters

RA causes painful swelling (inflammation) in the lining of affected joints. If not treated, this inflammation can harm cartilage. Cartilage is the flexible tissue covering the ends of bones. RA can also damage the bones.

In time, the joint may become more painful, misshapen, and hard to move. Much damage can occur early in the disease. And once this happens, the harm can’t be undone.

That’s why it is crucial to start taking a DMARD as soon as possible after the disease begins. This type of medicine helps stop or reduce inflammation. It can slow down RA and help prevent the destruction of joint tissue.

Don’t put off getting help

What if you have not yet been diagnosed with RA, but you develop problems that could be signs of the disease? It’s important to check out what’s going on. Talk with your provider about:

  • Pain, aching, stiffness, and/or swelling in more than one joint

  • The same joint symptoms on both sides of your body, such as in both hands

  • Unexplained weight loss, fever, tiredness, and/or weakness

If it turns out that you have RA, the disease can be managed with a combination of medicine and lifestyle changes. But the sooner you get started, the better—so don’t delay.


Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/19/2019
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