Rheumatoid arthritis swelling: Causes and treatment

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Rheumatoid arthritis swelling: Causes and treatment

Swelling is a normal side effect in those with rheumatoid arthritis but if you know what increases swelling and how to treat it the pain can become quite managable.

How does RA cause swelling?

Inflammation is a common side effect of rheumatoid arthritis.

RA causes the body’s immune system to attack the synovium, which lines the joints. The synovium produces a fluid that helps the joints move more smoothly.

When the immune system attacks the synovium, it often results in inflammation and swelling. Sometimes inflammation of the synovium membrane leads to swelling, other times too much synovial fluid in the joints causes the problem.

Sometimes, swelling can be severe. For example, a person’s hand can become so swollen that it looks like a boxing glove. Excessive swelling can cause a reduced range of motion.

Over time, the continued swelling and inflammation can also weaken ligaments in the joints. This weakening can lead to deformities of the feet and hands, such as claw toe or hammer toe. However, these are late symptoms of RA.

What areas does swelling affect?

Swelling caused by RA commonly affects joints in the following areas:

  • hands
  • wrists
  • feet
  • knees
  • ankles
  • hips
  • elbows
  • shoulders
  • neck

The swelling in RA usually occurs in joints on both sides of the body. This is different from osteoarthritis, which generally affects a single joint.

In 20 percent of cases, foot and ankle symptoms are the first to appear.


Treatments for RA swelling

If the swelling is severe, a doctor may recommend removing excess fluid from the affected joint. This procedure is called joint aspiration and is generally carried out under local anesthetic.

A doctor may also inject a substance called hydrocortisone into the joint. This is an anti-inflammatory medication that can reduce some of the symptoms that lead to swelling.

As well as these more immediate fixes, a doctor may prescribe medications to help a person control their RA.

Some people will take a combination of medications designed to prevent RA flare-ups and slow the disease’s progression.

Read on: Swelling in rheumatoid arthritis and where it occurs

The health and medical information on our website is not intended to take the place of advice or treatment from health care professionals. It is also not intended to substitute for the users’ relationships with their own health care/pharmaceutical providers.

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