People With RA Have a Higher Risk of Infection

Because RA is an autoimmune condition, it means people have weaker immune systems and are vulnerable to infection.

People With RA Have a Higher Risk of Infection

By Rheumatoid Connect StaffA Published at October 17, 2016 Views 3,632 Likes 1

People who have rheumatoid arthritis have a substantially greater risk of infections, including serious ones like pneumonia and shingles. Here’s what you should know to better manage your RA and help prevent harmful infections.

How much greater is the risk?

A review in the journal Rheumatology that was reported on PubMed looked at a series of RA studies over the last 50-plus years. They found that the risk for serious infection can be two to four times higher than average in some cases. A person's age and the existence of comorbidities, among other things, affect the prevalence of infection.

Why do people with RA have this greater risk?

This higher rate of infection has everything to do with RA itself. RA is an autoimmune disease, in which the body's immune system attacks itself, which causes joint pain and stiffness. Because the immune system isn't functioning properly, your body can't fight off bacteria and other bugs, and thus infections may be more common.

People with RA may have double the risk of infection.

Many RA drugs also increase the risk, because they're meant to suppress your body's immune system. But the drugs can work too well, hobbling your ability to fend off infections. Even the use of glucocorticoids, a special form of steroid hormones long used to treat RA, could significantly increase a person's infection risk.

What can be done to fight infections?

People with RA should take precautions to mitigate their greater infection risk. As Mayo Clinic explains, you should make sure you're up to date on all of your vaccinations. Ask your doctor whether you need these vaccinations or any others:

• Human papillomavirus
• Influenza
• Hepatitis B
• Varicella zoster
• Pneumococcus

It's also important to recognize the early warning signs of infection so that you can seek treatment right away. The most common symptoms of many infections include aching muscles, headaches, shortness of breath, redness and swelling around a wound, elevated temperature (higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), and dizziness or confusion. If you think you may have an infection, contact your doctor right away.

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