Autoimmune Conditions: Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common autoimmune inflammatory arthritis, and is seen more commonly in women, smokers, and individuals with a family history of RA. It should be considered if unexplained pain and swelling in the metacarpophalangeal and/or metatarsophalangeal joints and morning stiffness of fingers lasting for longer than 30 minutes are present. RA may be present in the lungs, skin, and eyes. It is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular death independent of other risk factors. Disease activity should be monitored using a validated scale, such as the Disease Activity Score 28 (DAS28), among others. Earlier management to achieve remission or decrease disease activity is associated with less joint damage, better quality of life, and improved survival rates. Methotrexate with consideration of low-dose glucocorticoids is considered first-line therapy for RA. Other disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, including immunobiologics, may be used for patients who do not benefit from methotrexate. Before undergoing treatment, patients should be screened for tuberculosis and hepatitis B and C infection. Drug dosages may be tapered in patients with remission or decreased disease activity, but drugs should not be discontinued.

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