4 Ways for Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis to Avoid Infection

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As family caregivers for our aging or disabled parents, we want to give the best care possible. We learn through trial and error and we do research to manage pain, flare-ups, or other issues, but many of us don’t think about researching preventative practices to avoid these common issues. Sometimes, prevention is the best medicine.

For example, family members with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will need to take extra precautions against infection. Infections acquired during care, both at home and in professional settings, are an increasing problem. Cases of RA are particularly likely to result in infection.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Infections

Medical professionals have long suspected that their patients have a higher probability of infection when RA is already present. This is often due to the use of steroid medications which suppress immune response. A study recently published by the American College of Rheumatology confirms this link. Of roughly 86,000 seniors diagnosed with RA, more than 20,000 have experienced infections. The infections themselves vary in type and severity.

4 Ways to Avoid Infections

These infections make a life already complicated by RA much more difficult. Fortunately, many infections can be avoided by taking simple precautions in daily life. Here are four ways to implement better infection control while providing caregiver help for your loved one.

Reduce Comorbidity

Comorbidity means having multiple medical conditions simultaneously. The possibility of contracting an infection is even greater when RA is additionally complicated by another disease or disorder. For example, obesity can increase a persons chance for diabetes mellitus. This type of comorbidity makes infection much more likely because the effects of diabetes will undermine the use of certain tissues. By managing weight, through diet and exercises that are appropriate for someone with RA, caregivers can help lessen the likelihood of infection. Other comorbidities include chronic lung disease and alcoholism.

Use Anti-Bacterial Practices

Bacterial infection in patients with RA can also be avoided by using anti-bacterial soaps and sanitizers when caring for a loved one. In health care facilities, the professional staff places a high value on practices such as hand-washing and the use of gloves. Among family members, there is a tendency to feel less concerned about hygiene. However, proper hand-washing techniques and use of barriers, such as gloves, have proven remarkably effective in lowering infection rates with RA patients and the general population in medical facilities.

Provide Good Skin Care

Skin and soft tissues were among the most frequent locations of infections, according to the study. Proper hygiene will help to avoid infections while providing in-home care. However, this care will be even more effective if skin quality is maintained and skin tears are avoided. Good hydration and topical applications of lotion can help maintain strong, elastic skin.

Shift Positions Frequently

Furthermore, people with RA should avoid sitting or lying in one position for long periods of time. Pressure ulcers can begin to develop within two hours of remaining in one position. Family caregivers should make sure their loved ones are shifting regularly or help shift their positions on a regular basis.

Awareness and Lifestyle Choices are Key to Prevention

Some tips are easier to follow than others. For example, your family member with RA may have already put him- or herself at risk of infection due to lifestyle choices. Family members who smoke or have smoked, or always maintained a high body weight will likely struggle with these issues after RA symptoms become aggravated. However, proper in-home care and talking with your loved one about lifestyle changes can effectively prevent infection.


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