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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, or a disease that occurs when a person's own immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s tissues.

RA causes long-term inflammation of the tissues around the joints and other organs in the body.

Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is the most common disease, outside of the joints and bones, that causes rheumatoid arthritis and occurs most commonly in people with severe disease.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

  • The most common symptoms are coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Some people experience fever and chest pain, which may be intensified by coughing and deep breathing.

Doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease at UPMC work closely with nationally renowned rheumatology specialists at the UPMC Arthritis and Autoimmunity Center to develop treatments for people with ILD associated with RA.

The two centers collaborate on a number of innovative clinical research studies to better define effective treatment options and identify biologic markers to monitor disease activity and treatment responses.

Learn more about rheumatoid arthritis causes and symptoms

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Learn more about the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine.


Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

The diagnosis of interstitial lung disease (ILD) is often delayed in people with more severe arthritis because they're usually more limited by their joint di sease rather than their respiratory symptoms.

Testing for interstitial lung disease associated with rheumatoid arthritis

To determine a diagnosis, specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease at UPMC will:

  • Do a pulmonary function test to provide an indication of lung function.
  • Take a high resolution CT scan of the chest

Other procedures may include:

  • Bronchoscopy with broncho-alveolar lavage — to ensure that an infectious process does not account for the changes seen on imaging studies, such as a CT scan. This procedure involves the inserti on of a thin, flexible instrument into the trachea after topical anesthesia, and the wash and collection of fluids and cells from the airspaces of the lung.
  • Surgical lung biopsy — occasionally, surgical lung biopsy is necessary to diagnose ILD or to determine the pattern of scarring, which helps us decide on the most appropriate treatment.

Learn more about rheumatoid arthritis testing

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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Treatments

Treatment regimens for interstitial lung disease (ILD) associated with rheumatoid arthritis vary.

Medical therapy of ILD associated with RA is complex and depends, in large part, on the pattern of lung scarring that accounts for the lung disease.

At UPMC, our specialists are dedicated to providing treatments that:

  • Relieve pain
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Decrease joint damage
  • Improve functional ability

When the disease progresses, despite medical therapy, lung transplantation remains a viable option for some people.

UPMC’s Lung Transplantation Program is nationally renowned. Our experts have performed more than 1,400 lung transplants since the program’s inception.

Doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease at UPMC and UPMC Arthritis and Autoimmunity Center work closely with members of the Lung Transplant team to refer patients for evaluation, when the time is right.

Learn more about treatments for rheumatoid arthritis

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