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Rheumatoid arthritis

COVID-19 and rheumatoid arthritis: Risks and precautions

Symptoms to look out for

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that the most common symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, a dry cough, and shortness of breath. These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after infection.

A report from the WHO also notes that other symptoms may include:

  • fatigue
  • extra mucus production
  • a sore throat
  • severe headache
  • chills
  • nausea or vomiting
  • nasal congestion
  • diarrhea

The CDC also include the loss of taste and smell as a symptom of COVID-19

In some cases, a COVID-19 infection can cause aches and pains in the joints. This pain may mimic the pain of RA or make RA seem worse.

Additionally, people who are at risk should pay especially close attention to the emergency warning signs of a COVID-19 infection.

According to the CDC, emergency warning signs include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • constant pressure or pain in the chest
  • New sensations of confusion or an inability to arouse
  • A bluish hue in the skin of the face or lips

Anyone experiencing the emergency signs of COVID-19 infection should seek medical attention immediately.

Extra care and precautions required

People with RA should take extra care to prevent their exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

In general, the CDC recommends that people who are at higher risk of severe illness should stay home and avoid close contact with others.

Several general practices can also help to reduce the spread of the virus. General prevention tips include:

  • staying home whenever possible
  • washing the hands regularly with warm water and soap, lathering for at least 20 seconds
  • coating the hands in an alcohol-based sanitizer when soap is not available
  • regularly disinfecting frequently used surfaces, such as countertops, keyboards, and phones
  • practicing physical distancing if a person needs to go out, staying at least 6 feet away from others while in public, and wearing a mask
  • avoiding contact with people who are sick in any way
  • keeping supplies of food and medication to hand so the person has access to them if they need to quarantine
  • avoiding public areas, such as public restrooms and public transportation
  • avoiding all non-essential travel

Additionally, the CDC now recommends that people wear cloth masks while in public as an additional step to slow the spread of the virus.

Medications

People with RA should take steps to ensure they have access to their medicines.

Anyone who relies on drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine, to treat RA should talk to their doctor or pharmacist about ensuring their access to treatment.

People with RA should not slow or stop any treatments they are taking without their doctor’s permission. This includes medication s that may suppress the immune system, such as biologics or DMARDs.

Stopping taking medication may cause a flare-up, which can put more stress on the body. However, sometimes a doctor may recommend that a person takes reduced doses of immunosuppressant medication and lengthens the intervals between infusions.

Some people have voiced concerns over the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to control symptoms.

However, the Arthritis Foundation notes that there is no clear evidence that using NSAIDs will increase a person’s risk of developing COVID-19 or that they will experience more significant adverse effects from the disease should they contract it.

People who rely on any of these medications to manage RA should talk to their doctor to assess their specific risks.

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