Rheumatoid Arthritis or RA, is a disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the tissue linings of the joints in the body, thereby damaging joints and cartilages over time. This disease is due to a reversal in the role played by the body’s defense mechanism, which is supposed to protect it from diseases. Instead, it attacks the body it’s meant to keep safe.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, an estimated 1.5 million Americans are living with rheumatoid arthritis. Women are more susceptible to the disease because available data shows that for every man with RA, there are three women, and the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis appear earlier in women than in men. Women can start showing the symptoms as young as 30 years of age.
According to the Mayo Clinic and the Arthritis Foundation, the most common symptom if you have rheumatoid arthritis is general fatigue and tiredness. The fatigue is due to the body’s reaction to the inflammation of the lining of the joints. The inflammation of the joints is the most important factor in rheumatoid arthritis. Other common symptoms people complain of are swollen joints, tenderness, stiffness and redness in the smaller joints of the body like the fingers and toes. People also show symptoms such as limping, loss of appetite, fever and difficulty in movement. Rheumatoid arthritis can also result in joint deformity.
Reports from the Mayo Clinic indicate that about 40 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis show symptoms in other body parts including problems with the eyes, heart, skin, lungs, kidneys and other tissues and organs.
Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis has no cure and can grow worse or decrease and go into remission. The ultimate objective of treatment is to reduce the symptoms, relieve their effects and prevent joint and organ deterioration.
Common over the counter pain killers such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium can be used to treat RA. Stronger NSAIDs will require a prescription. RA can also be treated with corticosteroids like prednisone which can quickly help to control severe pain. Doctors advise that corticosteroids should be taken for the smallest time possible due to its side effects on the body. Newer drugs used include DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs), biologics and JAK inhibitors.
DMARDs prevent joint damage by slowing down the spread of the disease, but they can also have adverse effects which include liver damage or lung disease. New variants of the DMARDs are biologic and can be taken through an injection or infusion, they target and modify part of the body’s immune system, and may be effective more than traditional DMARDs. The newest form of rheumatoid arthritis treatments is called JAK Inhibitors, because they are designed to target ‘’Janus Kinase’’ pathways in the body’s immune system, and can be orally administered.
Physiotherapy helps to increase the joints flexibility and can be used to manage RA. Occupational therapy which involves adopting new ways of doing daily activities to reduce pain is also used to control RH. Lastly, surgery can be used to correct severe cases of joint damage caused by RH. Synovectomy is an operation used to replace damaged joint lining, tendon repair, joint fusion and complete joint replacement.
Complementary and Alternative (CAM) treatments are also used to control rheumatoid arthritis. According to the Mayo Clinic, these treatments include the gentle movement therapy of Tai Chi, plant oils including evening primrose, fish oil supplements. Before using alternative methods, consult your doctor to know if won’t interfere with other medications you are taking.
The most important risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis is gender, followed by age. The chances of a woman having RA are three times higher than that of a man. The disease is also known to appear mostly in people between the ages of 40 to 60. Rheumatoid arthritis can also be hereditary, and individuals with a family history of rheumatoid arthritis are more susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis than people with no history of the disease.
The Mayo clinic reports that smoking increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, and when combined with a family history of the disease, the chances become even higher. Other risk factors are exposure to asbestos and silica, and obesity and being overweight especially for women below 55 years of age.
Lifestyle changes can help people with rheumatoid arthritis live more fulfilling lives. Lifestyle modifications can help people with RA regain their self- esteem and control anxiety and depression. Their families and doctors can help devise the best strategies for lifestyle changes that will bring about improvement in their living conditions.
Some of the life style changes include eating a balanced diet rich in food with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, e.g., onion which contains the anti-inflammatory flavonoid called quercetin. The Arthritis Foundation recommends a Mediterranean diet which includes fish, vegetables, fruits and olive oil as an effective diet for the control of rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatic arthritis flares can also be reduced by taking adequate rest during the day, and enough sleep at night.
A little gentle exercise is good for people with RA, even though it might be difficult. A physiotherapist can help to map out a beneficial exercise plan. Activities such as swimming, water aerobics, walking muscle strengthening and low impact aerobics can also help ameliorate the effects of rheumatoid arthritis. RH can also be treated with the support of alternative methods like acupuncture, massage, meditation, and guided visualisation.in conclusion, living with rheumatoid arthritis requires a positive mindset and support system. Allow your medical health providers, family and friends to support you in making the lifestyle changes that will bring about a healthier and active living.