6 Rheumatoid Arthritis Nursing Care Plans

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Rheumatoid Arthritis Nursing Care Plans
Rheumatoid Arthritis Nursing Care Plans

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It is a chronic, systemic inflammatory diseases that involves the connective tissues and characterized by destruction and proliferation of synovial membrane resulting in joint destruction, ankylosis, and deformity.

No one knows what causes rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers speculate that a virus may initially trigger the body’s immune response, which then becomes chronically activated and turns on itself (autoimmune response). Immunologic mechanisms appear to play an important role in the initiation and perpetuation of the disease in which spontaneous remissions and unpredictable exacerbations occur. RA is a disorder of the immune system and, as such, is a whole-body disease that can extend beyond the joints, affecting other organ systems, such as the skin and eyes.

Nursing Care Plans


The most common issues that should be address in the nursing care plan for the patient with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) include pain, sleep disturbance, fatigue, altered mood, and limited mobility. The patient with newly diagnosed RA needs information about the disease to make daily self management decisions and to cope with having a chronic disease.

Here are six (6) rheumatoid arthritis nursing care plans:

  1. Acute Pain
  2. Impaired Physical Mobility
  3. Disturbed Body Image
  4. Self-Care Deficit
  5. Risk for Impaired Home Maintenance
  6. Deficient Knowledge
  7. Other Possible Nursing Care Plans
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Acute Pain: Unpleasant sensory and emotional experience arising from actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage; sudden or slow onset of any intensity from mild to severe with anticipated or predictable end and a duration of <6 months.

Nursing Diagnosis

  • Acute Pain

May be related to

  • Injuring agents: distension of tissues by accumulation of fluid/inflammatory process, destruction of joint

Possibly evidenced by

  • Reports of pain/discomfort, fatigue
  • Self-narrowed focus
  • Distraction behaviors/autonomic responses
  • Guarding/protective behavior

Desired Outcomes

  • Report pain is relieved/controlled.
  • Appear relaxed, able to sleep/rest and participate in activities appropriately.
  • Follow prescribed pharmacological regimen.
  • Incorporate relaxation skills and diversional activities into pain control program.
Nursing InterventionsRationale
Consider reports of pain, noting location and intensity (scale of 0–10). Note precipitating factors and nonverbal pain cues.Favorable in determining pain management needs and effectiveness of program.
Recommend or provide firm mattress or bedboard, small pillow. Elevate linens with bed cradle as needed.Soft and sagging mattress, large pillows prevent maintenance of proper body alignment, placing stress on affected joints. Elevation of bed linens reduces pressure on inflamed or painful joints.
Suggest patient assume position of comfort while in bed or sitting in chair. Promote bedrest as indicated.In severe disease or acute exacerbation, total bedrest may be necessary (until objective and subjective improvements are noted) to limit pain or injury to joint.
Place and monitor use of pillows, sandbags, trochanter rolls, splints, braces.Rests painful joints and maintains neutral position. Note: Use of splints can decrease pain and may reduce damage to joint; however, prolonged inactivity can result in loss of joint mobility and function.
Encourage frequent changes of position. Assist patient to move in bed, supporting affected joints above and below, avoiding jerky movements.Prevents general fatigue and joint stiffness. Stabilizes joint, decreasing joint movement and associated pain.
Monitor the duration, not the intensity, of morning stiffness.Duration more accurately reflects the disease’s severity.
Recommend that patient take warm bath or shower upon arising or at bedtime. Apply warm, moist compresses to affected joints several times a day. Monitor water temperature of compress, baths, and so on.Heat promotes muscle relaxation and mobility, decreases pain, and relieves morning stiffness. Sensitivity to heat may be diminished and dermal injury may occur.
Provide gentle massage.Promotes relaxation and reduces muscle tension.
Encourage use of stress management techniques such as progressive relaxation, biofeedback, visualization, guided imagery, self-hypnosis, and controlled breathing. Provide Therapeutic Touch.Promotes relaxation, provides sense of control, and may enhance coping abilities.
Involve in diversional activities appropriate for individual situation.Refocuses attention, provides stimulation, and enhances self-esteem and feelings of general well-being.
Medicate before planned activities and exercises as indicated.Promotes relaxation, reduces muscle tension and spasms, facilitating participation in therapy.
Administer medications as indicated:
ASA exerts an anti-inflammatory and mild analgesic effect, decreasing stiffness and increasing mobility. ASA must be taken regularly to sustain a therapeutic blood level. Research indicates that ASA has the lowest toxicity index of commonly prescribed NSAIDs.
These drugs control mild to moderate pain and inflammation by inhibition of prostaglandin synthesis.
These drugs modify the immune response and suppress inflammation.
These drugs vary in action, but all reduce pain and swelling, lessening arthritic symptoms rather than eliminating them. Arava (FDA approved in 1998) is the first oral drug shown to slow progression of RA and damage to joints.
  • COX-2 inhibitors: celecoxib (Celebrex), rofecoxib (Vioxx)
A new class of medication, COX-2 inhibitors interfere with prostaglandin production, similarly to NSAIDs, but are less likely to harm the stomach lining or kidneys. May be used in combination with other medications.
These injectable drugs are the first genetically engineered medications for arthritis. These anti-TNF compounds block inflammation and rapidly decrease pain and joint swelling. Enbrel is self-injected twice a week and may be used in combination with methotrexate. Remicade is administered IV at 1- to 3-month intervals. Note: Because of concerns about immune function suppression, Enbrel is recommended only for patients who are unable to tolerate methotrexate or failed to respond to at least two other DMARDs.
Characteristics of anti-inflammatory and immune modifier effects coupled with ability to block metalloproteinases (associated with joint destruction) have resulted in dramatic benefits in research studies.
May control systemic effects of RA synovitis and scleroderma if other therapies have not been successful. High rate of side effects (thrombocytopenia, leukopenia, aplastic anemia) necessitates close monitoring. Note: Drug should be given between meals because drug absorption is impaired by food, as well as antacids and iron products.
  • Antacids: misoprostol (Cytotec), omeprazole (Prilosec)
Given with NSAID agents to minimize gastric irritation and discomfort, reducing risk of GI bleed.
Although narcotics are generally contraindicated because of chronic nature of condition, short-term use of these products may be required during periods of acute exacerbation to control severe pain.
Assist with physical therapies such as paraffin glove, whirlpool baths.Provides sustained heat to reduce pain and improve ROM of affected joints.
Apply ice or cold packs when indicated.Cold may relieve pain and swelling during acute episodes.
Instruct in use and monitor effect of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS) unit if used.Constant low-level electrical stimulus blocks transmission of pain sensations.
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See Also


You may also like the following posts and care plans:

Musculoskeletal Care Plans


Care plans related to the musculoskeletal system:

Further Reading


Recommended books and resources:

  1. Nursing Care Plans: Diagnoses, Interventions, and Outcomes
  2. Nurse's Pocket Guide: Diagnoses, Prioritized Interventions and Rationales
  3. Nursing Diagnoses 2015-17: Definitions and Classification
  4. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V-TR)
  5. Manual of Psychiatric Nursing Care Planning
  6. Maternal Newborn Nursing Care Plans
  7. Delmar's Maternal-Infant Nursing Care Plans, 2nd Edition
  8. Maternal Newborn Nursing Care Plans

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