Autoimmune Disease with Joint Inflammation

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that leads to inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues. In addition to joint pain and stiffness, patients with RA may experience fever, fatigue and energy loss.  

Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term disease that affects both joints and organs. The cause of RA is unknown. However, we do know that women are diagnosed with RA more often than men, and infection, genes and hormone changes can all contribute to the disease.

At Penn State Health, our goal is to halt the disease’s progression. Our comprehensive treatment options focus on pain relief, inflammation reduction, slowing or stopping joint damage and improving your quality of life. We know RA can disrupt and limit your daily life. Our team of rheumatologists is here to help you increase your function and overall well-being with effective treatment, medication management and lifestyle changes.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Most often, patients with RA have joint pain equally on both sides of the body. It most commonly affects fingers, wrists, knees, feet, elbows, ankles, hips and shoulders.

Early disease symptoms include:

  • Minor joint pain
  • Stiffness
  • Fatigue

As the disease progresses, symptoms can include:

  • Morning stiffness that lasts longer than one hour
  • Joints feel warm, tender and stiff when not used for an hour
  • Joint pain often felt in the same joint on both sides of the body
  • Joints often swollen
  • Joints lose their range of motion and become deformed over time

Additional symptoms of RA include:

  • Chest pain when taking a breath (pleurisy)
  • Dry eyes and mouth (Sjogren syndrome)
  • Eye burning, itching and discharge
  • Nodules under the skin
  • Numbness, burning or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Sleep difficulties

There is no specific test to determine if you have RA. However, most people with RA will have some abnormal test results, but not always.

Two diagnostic lab tests that are positive for most people with RA are:

  • Anti-CCP antibody
  • Rheumatoid factor

Additional diagnostic tests your rheumatologist might order include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • C-reactive protein
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
  • Joint X-rays
  • Joint ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Joint fluid analysis

Patients with RA can have permanent joint damage without proper treatment. Early treatment with medication combinations can help prevent significant joint pain and damage. Regular follow-up visits are also needed to continue adjusting treatment.

Experts in Care

Meet our doctors, view their profiles and select the one that’s right for you.

Find a doctor near you

Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Comprehensive Approach to Care 

At Penn State Health, we use a comprehensive approach to your care. During each visit, we evaluate your symptoms and adjust your treatment plan, as needed. Treatment often includes a combination of medication, rest, exercise, joint protection, physical therapy and occupational therapy.

Commitment to Clinical Trials

The rheumatologists at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center are committed to offering RA patients the latest treatment options, including access to leading-edge clinical trials. Learn more about new Penn State Health clinical trials at StudyFinder.

Effective Medication Management

At Penn State Health, we know that managing your RA is your top priority – and it’s ours, too. We will work closely with you to determine the best combination of medications to help reduce your joint pain and manage your symptoms. Medications include:

  • Analgesics
  • Aspirin
  • NSAIDs (over the counter and prescribed forms)

Prescription medications include:

  • Azathioprine
  • Cyclosporine
  • Glucocorticoids (such as prednisone)
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Leflunomide
  • Methotrexate
  • Sulfasalazine

Newer biologic medications can be effective, especially when used in combinations with other medications. These treatments include:

  • Abatacept
  • Adalimumab
  • Etanercept
  • Infliximab
  • Tocilizumab

Support Groups

Support groups provide an opportunity to share your feelings and connect with other patients and caregivers who are experiencing similar struggles.

Learn more about support groups offered

Experts in Care

Meet our doctors, view their profiles and select the one that’s right for you.

Find a doctor near you