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Rheumatoid arthritis: Protect your health with vaccines

Published On: Jul 16 2014 02:43:35 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 31 2014 02:50:15 PM CDT
Elderly hands

By Mayo Clinic News Network

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 also can 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.

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 what vaccinations might be appropriate for you, and when during the course of your treatment is the best time to receive them.


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