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UCBCares® 1-844-599-CARE (2273)

This site is intended for US residents.
UCBCares® 1-844-599-CARE

Rheumatoid arthritis dictionary

Becoming familiar with words and phrases related to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will help you talk to your healthcare providers about the disease and the steps you can take to help manage it.

Anemia: Abnormally low levels of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin (the part of the blood that carries oxygen).

Antibody: A protein that is part of the body's natural immune defense system and that helps identify and neutralize foreign substances in the body.

Anticyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies: A biomarker used to diagnose RA and to help predict the course of the disease; the presence of anti-CCP antibodies is measured using a blood test and is positive in many RA patients.

Antinuclear antibodies (ANAs): A group of antibodies that may be present in people who have an immune disease. ANAs may also be present in people who do not have an immune disease.

Anti-TNF therapy: A medicine that works by blocking a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha in the body.

Autoimmune disorder/disease: A condition that occurs when the immune system attacks and/or damages healthy body tissue by mistake. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune disorders, including RA.

Biologic: A substance originating from a living source that is used to treat disease.

Biologic response modifiers: These drugs are derived from living sources and target and block proteins in the immune system that play a role in triggering inflammation.

Bone: A single unit of the skeleton. Bones provide shape and support, store minerals, and serve as a place where blood cells are made. Bones surround and protect organs and give points of attachment for the muscles, which allow the body to move.

Cartilage: A tough but flexible connective tissue that covers the ends of bones at a joint and is also found in other parts of the body, such as the ears and air passages. Healthy cartilage allows bones to glide over each other and prevents them from rubbing against each other.

Clinical Disease Activity Index (CDAI): A measure of RA disease activity and severity based on the number of specific tender and swollen joints and both the patient's and physician's overall assessment of health. Higher scores indicate more severe disease. (See also Simplified Disease Activity Index.)

Corticosteroids: Drugs used to slow down the immune system and help reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids are sometimes used in the treatment of inflammatory diseases, such as RA. Please note that not all options have FDA approval for the treatment of RA.

C-reactive protein (CRP): A protein made by the liver. High CRP levels in the blood are a sign of inflammation.

Disease Activity Score (DAS): A measure of disease activity in RA. To determine a person's DAS, a healthcare provider will examine the joints for swelling and tenderness, review results of blood tests, and talk to the patient about his or her symptoms. (See also Clinical Disease Activity Index; Disease Activity Score including 28 joints; Simplified Disease Activity Index.)

Disease Activity Score including 28 joints (DAS28): A measure of disease activity in RA. A DAS28 is calculated using the number of tender and swollen joints (out of a total of 28), the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and a patient’s assessment of his or her overall health. A DAS28 greater than 5.1 is the definition of active disease. A DAS28 less than 3.2 means that the disease is well controlled. A DAS28 less than 2.6 is associated with remission.

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): Treatments that can slow down the progression of RA.

Erosion: The wearing away or destruction of the surface of a tissue, material, or structure.

Flare, flare-up: An increase in the severity of a person's clinical disease symptoms.

Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ): A set of questions that assesses physical function by asking patients about their ability to do everyday activities.

Immune system: The system of the body that involves the cells and biochemical processes responsible for defending against foreign substances, such as infections.

Immunomodulators, immunosuppressants: Treatments used for many clinical conditions, including RA; immunomodulators for RA work by reducing the immune system response.

Inflammation: A series of reactions that normally activate cells and molecules of the immune system to prevent infection or repair tissue damage.

Intravenous (IV): A way of putting medication directly into the vein, usually through a needle or tube, to allow direct access to the blood. In RA, intravenous (IV) injection of medication may be done at an infusion center.

Joint: The point where 2 bones meet. A freely movable joint is one in which the bone ends are covered with a thin sheet of cartilage and joined by ligament lined by a synovial membrane. (See also Synovial membrane.)

Joint space narrowing: Thinning space between joints; by measuring the width of joint space, a healthcare provider can monitor the progression of disease.

Lyophilized: Freeze dried. When CIMZIA is given by a doctor or nurse, it is in the form of a lyophilized powder before it is mixed with sterile water and injected.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A technique that uses electromagnetic energy to produce images of the soft tissues in the central nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Bony tissues and other organ systems are imaged by MRI as well.

Maintenance therapy: A therapy given to improve/maintain current health status or to prevent a relapse of disease.

Methotrexate: A nonbiologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) that may be prescribed alone, in combination with other DMARDs, or in combination with a biologic.

Morning stiffness: Joint and muscle stiffness that is present on awakening and is associated with various types of inflammatory arthritis. The stiffness tends to decrease as activity is increased during the day.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): A class of drugs that reduces pain, inflammation, and fever. There is no evidence that NSAIDs change the progression of a disease such as RA.

Occupational therapy: A form of treatment that involves changing a person's environment or the way that he or she completes daily tasks to increase his or her ability to function independently and to prevent further disability.

Pathology: The study of disease; also, the causes, development, and processes of a disease.

PEGylation: A chemical process of changing a molecule by the addition of polyethylene glycol (PEG) to help extend its ability to work in the body.

Physical therapy: A form of treatment that uses exercise, massage, assistive devices, and patient education and training to preserve, improve, or bring back movement and physical function.

Polyethylene glycol (PEG): A chemical used to change a protein or drug so that its removal by the body is delayed or stopped, thereby extending its ability to work in the body.

Radiographic progression: The extent to which a person with RA has sustained permanent damage to the joints. X-ray images are used to measure the degree of change between 2 time points.

Radiography: The examination of any part of the body by means of X-ray images.

Remission: A period of time when signs or symptoms of a disease are minimal or absent.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): An autoimmune disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints. RA can affect many joints but is common in the wrists and fingers.

Rheumatoid factor (RF): An antibody present in the serum (fluid portion of the blood) of 50% to 95% of adults with RA. RF is helpful in diagnosing and investigating the disease.

Rheumatoid nodule: Lump of tissue that forms under the skin, occurring most commonly over bony areas, in some patients with RA.

Rheumatologist: A doctor who is qualified by additional training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones.

Rheumatology: A specialty of internal medicine dedicated to the diagnosis and management of disorders affecting the connective tissue and related structures of the body.

Simplified Disease Activity Index (SDAI): A measure of the severity of RA that is made up of the sum of the following: tender and swollen joint counts (28 joints), patient and physician assessments of disease activity, and level of C-reactive protein (CRP). Higher scores indicate greater disease activity.

Steroids: A class of drugs that reduce inflammation and slow down the body's immune system response and that are often used to treat chronic inflammatory conditions, including Crohn's disease and RA. Please note that not all options have FDA approval for the treatment of RA.

Subcutaneous injection: A way of administering medication under the skin, as opposed to injection into a muscle (intramuscular) or directly into a vein (intravenous).

Synovial membrane: The connective tissue membrane that lines the cavity (hollow space) of a joint.

Synovitis: Inflammation of a synovial membrane. Synovitis can be used as another term for arthritis.

Synovium: See Synovial membrane.

Trigger: Something that either sets off a disease in a person who is genetically inclined to develop the disease or that causes a certain symptom to occur in a person who has a disease.

Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha; TNF-α): A protein (known as a cytokine) produced by the immune system that is involved in the process of inflammation. Too much TNF-α can contribute to the symptoms of RA.


Aletaha D, Nell VPK, Stamm T, et al. Acute phase reactants add little to composite disease activity indices for rheumatoid arthritis: validation of a clinical activity score. Arthritis Res Ther. 2005;7:R796-R806.

Beattie KA, Macintyre NJ, Pierobon J, et al. The sensitivity, specificity and reliability of the GALS (gait, arms, legs and spine) examination when used by physiotherapists and physiotherapy students to detect rheumatoid arthritis. Physiotherapy. 2011;97:196-202.

Bruce B, Fries JF. The Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ). Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2005;23(suppl 39):S14-S18.

Buckland-Wright JC, Macfarlane DG, Lynch JA, et al. Joint space width measures cartilage thickness in osteoarthritis of the knee: high resolution plain film and double contrast macroradiographic investigation. Ann Rheum Dis. 1995;54:263-268.

Cartilage disorders. MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine, US Dept of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. Accessed May 8, 2012.

CIMZIA® [prescribing information], Smyrna, GA: UCB, Inc.; 2016.

CIMZIA Medication Guide. Smyrna, GA: UCB, Inc.; 2016.

Disease Activity Score. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. aboutrheumatoidarthritis/establisheddisease/diseaseactivityscoredas/default.aspx. Accessed May 8, 2012.

Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary. 31st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007.

Handout on health: rheumatoid arthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Updated April 2013. Accessed May 13, 2014.

Health Assessment Questionnaire-Disability. Accessed May 12, 2014.

Kiely P. The DAS28(ESR) score. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. aboutrheumatoidarthritis/establisheddisease/managingwell/theDAS28(ESR)score.aspx. Reviewed July 14, 2009. Accessed May 8, 2012.

MedlinePlus Medical Dictionary. US National Library of Medicine, US Dept of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. Accessed May 9, 2012.

Methotrexate. American College of Rheumatology website. Practice/ Clinical/Patients/Medications/Methotrexate_(Rheumatrex,Trexall)/. Accessed May 15, 2014.

Pincus T. Pain, function, and RAPID scores: vital signs in chronic diseases, analogous to pulse and temperature in acute diseases and blood pressure and cholesterol in long-term health. Bull NYU Hosp Jt Dis. 2008;66:155-165.

Rheumatoid arthritis. MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine, US Dept of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. Accessed May 9, 2012.

Ruffing V, Bingham CO. Rheumatoid arthritis clinical presentation. The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Accessed May 8, 2012.

Smolen JS, Breedveld FC, Schiff MH, et al. A simplified disease activity index for rheumatoid arthritis for use in clinical practice. Rheumatology. 2003;42:244-257.

Sokka T. Radiographic scoring in rheumatoid arthritis. Bull NYU Hosp Jt Dis. 2008;66:166-168.

Stedman's Medical Dictionary. 28th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006.

The Free Dictionary. Accessed May 9, 2012.

Thomas CL, ed. Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis Company; 1997.

What is a rheumatologist? American College of Rheumatology. clinical/patients/rheumatologist.asp. Accessed May 9, 2012.

Wiik AS, van Venrooij WJ. The use of anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies in RA. American College of Rheumatology. October 2003. Accessed May 7, 2012.

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