Rheumatoid arthritis and the medications used to treat it can increase your risk of developing infections. Vaccinations can help prevent some of these infections.
An autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissue. While rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects tissue lining your joints, it can also affect your lungs, heart, kidneys and eyes.
Rheumatoid arthritis medications work by suppressing your immune system. An unwanted side effect of this suppression, though, is an increased risk of infection — particularly in the lungs.
Vaccinations can help lower your risk of infection. But if you have a weakened immune system, you should avoid vaccines that contain live viruses. These types of vaccinations could cause infection in people with suppressed immune systems.
Doctors recommend that people who have rheumatoid arthritis receive the annual vaccination for respiratory influenza, also known as the flu shot. The nasal spray version contains live virus, so it's not recommended for people with weakened immune systems.
Your doctor might also recommend the pneumonia vaccine and the shingles vaccine. Unlike the pneumonia vaccine, the shingles vaccine contains live virus, so it's not recommended for people taking certain types of rheumatoid arthritis medications.
Talk to your doctor about which vaccinations might be appropriate for you, and when during the course of your treatment is the best time to receive them.
July 20, 2017
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- Matteson EL, et al. Overview of the systemic and nonarticular manifestations of rheumatoid arthritis. https://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 20, 2017.
- Schur PH, et al. Nonpharmacologic therapies and preventive measures for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. https://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 20, 2017.
- Dunkin MA. More than just joints: How rheumatoid arthritis affects the rest of your body. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/articles/rhemuatoid-arthritis-affects-body.php. Accessed May 10, 2017.