Approximately 1.5 million Americans suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), but many don’t know the source of the condition or how to relieve its symptoms. In this post, we’ll discuss what Rheumatoid Arthritis is and who is most likely to be affected. Additionally, we will dive in to what it’s like to experience symptoms and how to find relief living with RA.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a painful, chronic autoimmune disease that results in the tissue that lines the insides of joints (known as the synovium) becoming inflamed. This causes swelling in areas that normally would help joints move, and that inflammation becomes the source of the pain. Put simply: the body’s immune system malfunctions and attacks the joints.
Who is most likely to get Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from RA, and their initial symptoms typically arrive between the ages of 30 and 60. While you’re more likely to get Rheumatoid Arthritis if you have a family member who has it, most who suffer from RA do not have a family history of it.
If you suspect you may have it, but aren’t sure, review these common symptoms and see if they match up to yours:
- Joint stiffness (mostly in the morning)
- Joint tenderness and/or swelling (also called a “flare up”)
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- General fatigue
- Rheumatoid nodules (small under-the-skin lumps)
- Dry mouth and gum irritation
- Dry eyes
- Vision sensitivity to light
- Shortness of breath (caused by lung inflammation)
- Nerve damage (resulting from inflamed blood vessels
What is it like to live with Rheumatoid Arthritis?
If you’re fighting Rheumatoid Arthritis, you can live an active, normal life, but you may need to practice self-care to minimize your pain and symptoms. Here are a few ways that those suffering from RA manage it:
Physical Activity. Regular exercise is vital. Staying strong and keeping muscles active is a great way to reduce pain. Suggested activities include low-impact aerobics, dance, Pilates, yoga and other exercises that strengthen muscles and promote flexibility. Patients should see a doctor or physical therapist for recommended activities based on their abilities and then lessen the intensity if any joint damage has already occurred.
Diet. Eating foods that help keep inflammation low can be greatly beneficial to those suffering from RA. Most of these items fall into the traditional Mediterranean diet menu of fish, olive oil, fruits and vegetables. Foods to avoid include anything processed like packaged cookies and crackers, and fast foods.
Temperature Therapies. Some Rheumatoid Arthritis patients find relief using heating pads and hot baths to soothe stiff joints and muscles. Alternately, for a rapid reduction of inflammation to numb sharp pain, ice packs can be utilized.
Rest. Though it’s important to keep joints active so they don’t remain stiff for too long, it is necessary to balance the exercise and physical activity with sufficient rest. Especially when a “flare up” happens, it is necessary to allow the swelling to go down and relieve the pain before putting any more pressure on those joints.
Community. Connecting with others who suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis and/or discussing the ailment with supportive friends and family members may help to mentally navigate the condition.
What are the treatment options for those suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Although there is presently no cure for it, there are many Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment options that can be used for relief, in addition to the self-care tips above.
Topical Treatments. Whether in the form of creams, gels or patches, options that are applied directly to the skin can be very soothing, reducing inflammation and pain.
Supplements. Taking supplements like Omega-3 fish oil capsules and turmeric may ease morning stiffness and pain, but it’s important to discuss this option with a doctor to confirm there will be no interactions with any other medicines prescribed.
Medications. There are a variety of drugs that can help to slow the progression of the disease. Some of these include: Corticosteroids (to dramatically reduce inflammation); DMARDs (to curb immune system); JAK inhibitors (to block Janus pathway) and Biologics (to block parts of the immune system). Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like Aspirin and Ibuprofen can also be taken to ease symptoms. Work with a rheumatologist to find the right treatment plan for your needs.
Surgery. Though the most invasive of the treatments, if mobility is limited or daily functions are prevented from the progression of RA, joint replacement surgery may be an option. The procedure consists of a surgeon replacing the damaged parts of a joint with plastic and or metal substitutions. Hips, knees, shoulders, elbows and other common areas of damage are all candidates for this type of surgery.
Where can I seek additional help?
To learn more about RA and the treatments that would be most beneficial for you, talk to a healthcare provider who specializes in this condition. Western Washington Medical Group’s Rheumatologists are experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatologic diseases. We have three locations to serve you, in Everett, Silver Lake, and Bothell. Contact us to request an appointment today.