There’s a good chance that you or someone you know suffers from arthritis, a disease that makes the joints stiff, swollen, and painful. What you might not know, however, is that there are different types of arthritis, and one that doesn't discriminate is rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA. According to the Arthritis Foundation, 1 in 12 women and 1 in 20 men will develop an inflammatory autoimmune rheumatic disease during their lifetime.
RA is rarer than osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, but can be more severe and requires a holistic treatment approach. RA is different from osteoarthritis in that it is an autoimmune disease, which means it is caused by an underlying issue with the immune system that leads it to attack the body’s own tissues. Autoimmune disease can target virtually any part of the body, including the skin, the brain, the eyes, and the colon. But in the case of RA, the body’s immune attack is geared towards the joints and the fluid and tissues that surround them, causing the cartilage, bone, and ligaments in that area to deteriorate and cause stiffness, swelling, and pain. RA most frequently targets the wrist and hands or the feet, ankles, and knees.
Because RA stems from an issue with the immune system, the symptoms of RA can be more general than other types of arthritis. For example, you may experience fatigue, muscle aches, loss of appetite, or a random low-grade fever along with more common symptoms of RA, like:
Swelling or heat around the joints
Stiffness in the morning or after sitting or lying down
Loss of mobility
Nodules under the skin around the joint that are hard to the touch
If RA goes untreated, it can turn into a more systemic illness called “inflammatory arthritis,” which can cause other complications like an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, shortness of breath and chest pains, carpal tunnel syndrome, kidney problems, anemia, rheumatoid nodules, brittle bones, frequent infections, headaches, and drastic appetite changes.
If you’re struggling with RA,, here are a few suggestions I know almost everyone can benefit from regardless:
1. Move regularly: If you have RA you may not feel like moving or feel pain when you do. Consider these low-impact exercises to start with:
Yoga (specifically restorative)
2. Alleviate stress: If there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that stress has never helped any medical condition and RA is no exception! If you have any chronic medical condition but especially an autoimmune condition, make sure you’re prioritizing self-care and carving out time to relax. Here are some of my favorite stress management techniques:
Epsom salt baths
Being in nature
Any one of these done regularly will go a long way towards reducing symptoms and preventing any stress-induced exacerbations of your condition.
3. Remove trigger foods: When it comes to RA, some interesting trends have been discovered and are worth knowing about. The following is a list of conditions that may worsen your arthritis. If you suffer from RA, it would benefit you to limit them or remove them from your diet for at least 30 days to see how you feel:
All sugar except natural fruits
All citrus fruits
Wheat, corn, and soy
Minimize animal protein
4. Incorporate anti-inflammatory foods: The following is a great list of anti-inflammatory ingredients that may help you feel better:
Omega-3 fatty acids
The ingredients above can be taken in food form or as a supplement. For example, you can get omega-3s from foods like chia seeds and fatty fish; you can get turmeric by drinking fresh turmeric tea or eating curry, and you can get capsaicin by incorporating chili peppers into your diet. .
5. Get some Vitamin D: Low Vitamin D and RA seem to go together (actually low vitamin D is prevalent in those with any autoimmune condition) — there has been proof that low vitamin D causes RA development and worsens symptoms in people who already have the condition. Supplementing with Vitamin D and monitoring your levels can be an advantage to those struggling with RA symptoms.
While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there is an ever-increasing range of treatments able to alleviate the pain and swelling of this chronic inflammatory disorder.
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