Fight infections when you have rheumatoid arthritis


Fight infections when you have rheumatoid arthritis

  • Why RA raises the risk of infections like COVID-19
  • How medicines help control infections and RA flares
  • A simple but effective way to fight infections


When you have symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re dealing with pain, swelling and stiffness. But that’s not all: You also face a higher risk of infection. Be encouraged though. There are ways that you can fight symptoms. Read on to learn how to handle infections such as COVID-19 and deal with flares, too.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can begin at any age. Often it becomes active in your 20s, especially for men, and may re-emerge in your 50s, especially for women.  It’s a chronic (long-term) auto-immune disease that creates inflammation in joints and other tissues. It needs to be controlled to keep joints and organs from being damaged. There’s another reason to stay on top of your RA symptoms: preventing infections.

Rheumatoid arthritis and infections

Although COVID-19 is top of mind for many of us, a person with high-disease activity such as RA needs to be extra diligent to prevent infection. When you have RA, you are more prone to catching viruses, like COVID-19 and others, and your symptoms may be more serious. Even certain medicines you take to manage RA symptoms may lower your body’s ability to fight off infections.

That’s why knowledge is power when it comes to fighting infections — we want to help arm you with the facts.

So, why does having RA create more chance of contracting an infectious illness? The short answer is because sometimes RA itself, as well as the medicines you take, can lower your body's immune response to infection. This means your body is not as responsive to germs that cause colds, the flu and, yes, COVID-19.

If you have RA, it is important to continue your care -- talk with your doctor to determine if virtual visits can help you manage your symptoms. And if you do need in-person care, rest assured knowing that Providence is implementing 7 safety steps to keep you safe and healthy when you need to visit one of our facilities.

Control is key — that’s why medicines matter

By taking control of your disease, you have a better chance to avoid getting really sick because fewer flares mean better health. Even though, as mentioned above, some RA medicines may slow down your immune system, they’re still an important way to help avoid RA flares.

Sometimes it may feel like you’re choosing between a rock and a hard place, but your doctor can help. Talk with your rheumatologist about all of your choices to make sure you’re choosing the most effective medicine for your condition. You’ll also need to consider the drug’s effect on your immune system.

Fight flares and infections

With rheumatoid arthritis, it can feel like one day you’re up and the next day you’re down. You might have swelling and pain just a day after your joints were feeling pretty good. These episodes are called flares. You can’t predict them, and they can really make you feel drained.

When an RA flare starts, record your symptoms, especially the ones that are new or more intense, so you can talk with your doctor. If you can, take it easy — try staying off your feet when your joints are especially stiff and achy. Slowly ease your way back into activity when you feel better. If two days or more pass and you still feel bad, you’ll want to call your doctor.

COVID-19 and other infections

When it comes to infections, COVID-19 may cause aches and pains in the joints that can be similar to the pain of RA. The best way to fight this infection is to be on the lookout for symptoms, or if you’re in doubt about whether it’s COVID-19 or RA symptoms, call your doctor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common ones include a dry cough, fever and shortness of breath. They may appear 2-14 days after a person contracts an infection.

When it comes to infections, COVID-19 may cause aches and pains in the joints that can be similar to the pain of RA. The best way to fight this infection is to be on the lookout for symptoms and, when in doubt, call your doctor.

COVID-19 and other infections make it vital to pay close attention to ways to fight getting sick. One of the most important things you can do is also one of the simplest: Wash your hands — a lot. The CDC offers this guidance to help rid yourself of dangerous germs.

Other ways to prevent illness from infections if you have active RA or you’re taking an autoimmune drug:

  • Keep away from people, especially big groups (physical distancing).
  • Don’t get into close contact with others (stay at least 6 feet apart) and wear a mask when outside of your home.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.
  • Stay home as much as you can.
  • Have someone else shop for you.
  • Thoroughly clean high-touch surfaces.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Get a supply of RA medicine that lasts for at least 2 to 4 weeks.
  • Take advantage of pharmacy services that ship medicines right to your home.

Infections from other diseases can also weaken your immune system. That’s where vaccines may come in. Ask your doctor about vaccines for:

  • Flu
  • Pneumonia
  • Shingles
  • Whooping cough

Help and hope for treating RA

Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious disease with symptoms that can vary for each person. Still, there are positive developments in treatments. These may be able to slow RA’s progress or even stop joint damage from getting worse. Be sure to continue seeing your doctor and rheumatologist and about advances that target the inflammation caused by RA while also taking your immune system into account.

And during this time of COVID-19, fight infection by staying smart and keeping safe. If you need care, get care. Don't delay.


Find a doctor

Providence rheumatologists can help you with the latest advances in RA treatments. You can use Providence Virtual Care or search in our provider directory for a specialist. 






People who have rheumatoid arthritis have a greater chance of getting infections like COVID-19. Learn what you can do to help prevent that illness and treat other RA symptoms @Providence. #CureArthritis

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

From how to identify and treat heart diseases to exercise tips to maintain an active lifestyle, the Providence Senior's Health team is committed to providing real-world advice that is hyper-relevant to helping those 65+ find ways stay young at heart

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