Numerous clinical studies have found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have a higher incidence of some bacterial and viral infections than people who don't have the autoimmune disorder. The reasons for this aren't clear.

Many RA patients are treated with medications that suppress the immune system. This may not be the reason, or it may be the only reason they are more susceptible to infectious disease. RA itself may compromise the immune system and like anyone else, people with RA may have coexisting conditions that make them more vulnerable to certain types of infection.

People with RA are more prone to infections of the respiratory system, bones, joints, skin, muscle, and other underlying tissue. The risk of stomach and genitourinary tract infections were similar to groups who do not have RA.

How to Reduce Risk of Infection

A strong immune system is your best defense against infection. While no remedy or lifestyle choice has yet been proven to boost immunity, medical experts know that healthy living goes a long way toward keeping you healthy.

According to Harvard Medical School experts, the best ways to keep your body healthy are to reduce stress, eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, get regular exercise, drink alcohol only in moderation, not smoke, and see your doctor on a regular basis. More specifically:

  • Plan your daily diet to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and other foods that are low in saturated fat. Prepare meats in ways that ensure they are thoroughly cooked.
  • Figure out how much physical activity is enough, but not too much, for your condition.
  • Make sure your bedroom or sleeping area is quiet, comfortable, and otherwise conducive to getting a good night's sleep.
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Don't overdo it! While scientists have yet to figure out the exact link between various forms stress and immunity, and the role this connection plays in health, you probably don't need an expert to tell you that an over-packed schedule and being involved in stressful situations simply wears you down.
  • Be sure to get any vaccinations/immunizations your doctor recommends.
  • If you are taking immune-suppressing drugs, ask your doctor what else you can do to minimize side effects and keep yourself healthy.




Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Arthritis Treatment Center, Frederick, MD

Curtis, JR, et al; "The Comparative Risk of Serious Infections Among Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Starting or Switching Biological Agents."  Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases Aug 2011; 70(8):1401-1406 Web Oct 2012

Doran, M. et al; "Frequency of Infection in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis Compared with Controls: A Population Based Study." Arthritis and Rheumatism Sept 2002; 4(9):2287-2293 Web Oct 2012

Harvard Medical School: How to Boost Your Immune System

Strangfeld, A, et al; "Risk of Herpes Zoster in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis Treated with Anti-TNF-a Agents." Journal of the American Medical Association Feb 2009;301(7):737-744 Web Oct 2012