Arthritis is commonly associated with joint pain and old age, but it isn’t that simple. Unlike other forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and causes inflammation as a result, and anybody can be susceptible, regardless of age. While there is no cure, there are precautions that can be taken to minimize discomfort.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are inconsistent, but, when they appear, they can become quite intense. Some symptoms are:
- Joint Stiffness
- Joint Inflammation
- Slow-healing Injuries
- Carpal Tunnel
- Weight Loss
Roughly 40% of those suffering from RA also experience pain in areas beyond their joints, such as the kidneys, eyes, bone marrow, nerve tissue, and salivary glands.
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the synovium (the lining of the membranes surrounding the joints). The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis hasn’t been found, but there are factors that increase the risk of developing it:
- If a family member suffers from RA, chances are that it will be passed on.
- While rheumatoid arthritis can begin at any time, it is most common for people between the ages of 40 and 60.
- Women are more likely to develop RA.
- Exposure to asbestos or silica
Rheumatoid Arthritis and some of its treatments can lead to:
- Osteoporosis: the weakening of bones, making them more prone to fracturing
- Sjogren’s syndrome: a decrease in moisture in the eyes and mouth
- Rheumatoid nodules: firm lumps of tissue normally found on pressure points
- Higher risk of infections
- Abnormal body composition: a higher percentage of fat to lean muscle, even in spite of having an otherwise normal body mass index (BMI)
- Heart problems
- Lung disease
- Lymphoma: blood cancers that develop in the lymph system
While it may be easier said than done, exercising through the discomfort of RA allows for the joints to strengthen. As long as the exercise is low impact, it can only help in the long run. Even something as simple as stretching every day can help create a wider range of motion.
There is no magical food that will eradicate rheumatoid arthritis, but cutting out foods known for increasing inflammation can make a world of difference.
- Too much sodium will raise blood pressure, so avoid excess salt whenever possible. Processed foods and canned goods are loaded with sodium, and buying fresh will allow for more control.
- Try to avoid cooking at high temperatures as well to reduce advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs, or glytotoxins, are already produced in the body, and cooking at high temperatures produces unnecessary AGEs in the food. Too many AGEs in the bloodstream have been linked to inflammation, so opt for steaming or braising when cooking. Be sure to use fresh ingredients, because processed foods are usually cooked at high temperatures.
- Include more anti-inflammatory foods, such as fish, berries, nuts, seeds, beans, olive oil, and fiber.
- Include Vitamins C, B, D, calcium, magnesium, folic acid, selenium, and zinc
- Again, easier said than done, but stress releases cortisol, which creates more inflammation. Take some time to slow down and relax.
Medical Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis:
If one’s own preventative measures are not enough, seek treatment with a proper professional as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
- Steroids such as prednisone are common for fighting inflammation, but they can lead to side effects including insomnia, weight gain, skin thinning, and weakening bones.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can be used to protect joints from further damage and have been FDA approved, but they can potentially cause liver problems or affect white and red blood cell counts.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are always useful when helping with inflammation, but they will not protect joints from further damage. Common over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (found in Advil or Motrin) and naproxen (found in Aleve). Like any drug, it comes with risks, particularly if taken in high doses. Always consult a doctor first, especially if one has other pre-existing conditions such as kidney failure or heart failure.
- Surgery is an option if medications are ineffective. A synovectomy may be performed to remove the inflamed synovium. Tendon repair surgery could help restore poor joint function caused by weakened tendons. Joint fusion surgery, while reducing range of motion, could help alleviate pain and keep the joints from snapping out of place. Prosthetic joints could also replace extreme cases.