ZocdocAnswersCan athletes get rheumatoid arthritis?

Question

Can athletes get rheumatoid arthritis?

My mother was a swimmer and my doctor diagnosed her with rheumatoid arthritis. How is this possible? She used to swim all the time up until a few years ago when she turned 50.

Answer

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that effects different joints in the body. It occurs when the body's own immune system begins attacking the lining of the joints. This causes pain, swelling, morning stiffness, and difficulty doing things with the joints (often the hands). Unfortunately, being any type of athlete or being in shape does not protect you against rheumatoid arthritis. It develops on its own. Effected people are often middle aged women. The good news is that the treatment today for rheumatoid arthritis is excellent. The first line therapy is a drug called methotrexate. Methotrexate is actually a chemotherapy drug used in cancer. However, when it is used in extremely small doses, it can treat rheumatoid arthritis with very few side effects if any. Other new drugs are available as well for the more severe cases. I suggest that your mother schedule an appointment with a rheumatologist. This is a specialist that only treats inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. There will be a variety of tests this doctor will want to do prior to starting any treatment. This is just to verify the diagnosis. After that, she will be started on a medication (probably methotrexate) with a close followup visit to track her improvement.

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