A common inflammatory disorder, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect your quality of life, especially if not proactively treated. Generally, though, the diagnostic criteria for rheumatoid arthritis include: Inflammatory arthritis in two or more large joints (shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and ankles).
There are a number of genetic and environmental factors that may increase your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Considered a systemic condition because it can involve multiple parts of the body, RA typically begins with pain and swelling in the joints. but can also manifest itself in organs. It has no cure at present. Early rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect your smaller joints first — particularly the joints that attach your fingers to your hands and your toes to your feet.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease and its causes are unknown, but it is believed to result from a faulty immune response. RA can begin at any age and causes fatigue and prolonged stiffness after rest. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Risk factors Factors that may increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis include: Your sex. Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 1.3 million people in the United States. It’s 2.5 times more common in people designated female at birth than in people designated male at birth.
Medical scientists have categorized the progression of rheumatoid arthritis into three different categories.
As such, each individual’s developing Rheumatoid Arthritis can vary greatly, even within the three courses. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the following are possible paths Rheumatoid Arthritis can take:
- Monocyclic – only one episode of arthritis, ending within 2-5 years after initial diagnosis.
- Sometimes called remissive
- Usually a result of early diagnosis and treatment
- Observed more frequently in men
- More common in patients who tested positive for a rheumatoid factor
- Polycyclic – characterized by the levels of the disease fluctuating.
- Sometimes called intermittent
- Most common
- Constant reoccurrence of RA symptoms, but at varying stages and periods
- Individuals can go for long periods without symptoms
- Progressive – RA continues to increase and severity and does not go away.
- Least common
- Found in patients with most joints involved at diagnosis
- Additional symptoms appear, including disability
- Deliberate treatment plan needed
Thankfully, progressive rheumatoid arthritis is the least common course. Further still, treatment plans have improved greatly, regardless of the course of RA, and patients are finding their quality of life improving.
Rheumatoid arthritis itself, along with some medications used for treating rheumatoid arthritis, can increase your risk of osteoporosis — a condition that weakens your bones and makes them more prone to fracture.
In addition to collaborating with your rheumatologist to develop a plan, there are things you can do at home to keep yourself healthy. The following three lifestyle choices are proven to increase the well-being of those with a RA diagnosis.
- Maintain an active lifestyle – despite the fact that movement can be difficult with inflamed joints, maintaining an exercise routine keeps joints flexible.
- Low impact aerobics such as walking or swimming are beneficial.
- Stretching exercises promote joint flexibility.
- Yoga strengthens joints and relieves stress.
- Regular exercise promotes a healthy weight, preventing excessive pressure on your joints.
- If you’re overweight and a smoker, your chances of developing RA go up.
- Eat a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet – nourishing your body with high quality, preferably organic, foods is essential to overall health.
- Salmon and other fatty fish provide healthy omega 3 oils that have protective benefits for your joint pain. Aim for 2 servings per week. Be careful to limit fish known for higher mercury levels.
- Dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach are nutritional powerhouses. Among a laundry list of benefits, they have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Aim for 3 – 6 cups, daily.
- Nuts and seeds fight inflammation with their high levels of monounsaturated fats. Aim for one large handful of nuts or seeds daily.
- Berries, like blueberries, are high in antioxidants and counteract joint inflammation. Aim for 2-3 half-cup servings weekly.
- Mental health is important – published studies have indicated that more than half (63%) of RA will be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder in their lifetime. While it’s not completely understood, scientists hypothesize arthritis patients have depressive feelings due to the loss of the ability to participate in a valued activity (i.e. running).
- The first two items listed, active lifestyle and healthy diet, promote mental health.
- Maintain a reliable support network.
- Studies show that psychological treatment (i.e. relaxation techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy, biofeedback) for depressive RA patients significantly reduces symptoms of pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) doesn’t have to stop you from living your life. Although the rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can be painful, there are many treatments and therapies to help you take your life back.
There’s never been a better time in history to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Treatment and management options have improved drastically.
Your immune system normally makes antibodies that attack bacteria and viruses, helping to fight infection. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system mistakenly sends antibodies to the lining of your joints, where they attack the tissue surrounding the joint.
The best things you can do as a RA patient is find an excellent rheumatologist, educate yourself, and maintain a lifestyle that promotes well-being. – Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network (RASN)
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