Out of the various types of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disorder, which can affect more than just your joints.
This type of arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing painful inflammation, which can affect and damage other parts of the body, like eyes, lungs, blood vessels, skin, as well as the heart. The painful swelling associated with this condition can also lead to joint deformity and bone erosion, which is what makes this condition so complex.
Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women than men and since it’s an autoimmune disorder, it is caused when the immune system in your body begins to attack the lining of the membranes that surround your joints. This lining is known as synovium. Also, this joint condition mostly occurs when a person is middle-aged.
Risk factors associated with rheumatoid arthritis
- Family history: If there’s someone in your family with rheumatoid arthritis, your risk of developing it is higher.
- Obesity: This is another factor that can significantly contribute to your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
- Smoking: If you smoke cigarettes and have a genetic predisposition to this condition, you’re at a higher risk.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
Coming to the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, early signs are mainly experienced in the smaller joints of your body, primarily in the joints that connect to your fingers, usually affecting both sides equally and more so in the morning hours.
Gradually, the symptoms begin to spread to the knees, wrists, elbows, hips, as well as shoulders.
These symptoms may come and go with varying severity and flare-ups can be difficult to deal with. It is therefore imperative that you consult with an orthopedician or a rheumatologist as soon as you experience any of the early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Essential lifestyle modifications for rheumatoid arthritis
The thing about rheumatoid arthritis is that there will always be a combination of good days and bad days. Some days, the symptoms will worsen; while on the other days, you may feel a lot better. A doctor can definitely help ease your symptoms through some treatment options, but there are various lifestyle modifications you must incorporate in order to manage the condition better.
Yes, exercise or even the thought of it can be daunting when you have pain in the joints, but it’s essential to stay as active as possible to reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Some of the important exercises for this condition include stretching, light-weights, muscle-stretching workouts, and low-impact aerobics. In case you experience unbearable pain during any exercise, stop immediately and check with an orthopedician. You may be advised to rest until your joints recover and you can resume your low-intensity workouts again.
Consume more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, less sugar, cholesterol, and saturated fats. In case you’re overweight, your doctor will ask you to lose the extra pounds in healthy ways. You can also consult a dietitian to give you a customized diet plan as per your body’s requirements and health condition. You also need to stop the intake of alcohol as it won’t let the medicines do their job properly and may even cause side-effects.
A healthy routine
Take care of yourself by carefully keeping a note of what you eat. You should also try and manage your stress through meditation, yoga, and exercise. Don’t forget to take your medicines on time and never skip a dose. Always make sure to discuss any kind of side-effect of the medicine with your doctor beforehand.
Complications associated with rheumatoid arthritis
As mentioned before, rheumatoid arthritis affects organs beyond your joints, thus increasing your risk of further health complications. In fact, more than 40% of people who suffer from this condition complain of symptoms that don’t involve the joints at all. Here are some health complications linked with rheumatoid arthritis:
- Osteoporosis: A condition related to the weakening of the bones of your body, making them susceptible to fractures.
- Rheumatoid nodules: This is when solid bumps of tissues form in pressure point areas like the elbow, and can eventually also form in other parts of the body, like the lungs.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: This is something that affects your wrists, resulting in inflammation in that area, which can further hinder normal functioning.
- Cervical Myelopathy: It can affect the joints in the vertebrae such as the cervical spine leading to compression in the spinal cord, causing clumsiness in hands and gait imbalance.
- Dry mouth and eyes: Many people with rheumatoid arthritis complain of extremely dry eyes and mouth, a condition medically known as Sjogren’s Syndrome
- Heart problems: Rheumatoid arthritis makes you susceptible to heart issues by causing blocked arteries.
- Abnormal body composition: This joint condition can actually meddle with your BMI, even if you’ve always had a normal BMI always.
- Secondary Infections: This is because rheumatoid arthritis and medications taken for it can significantly impact your immune system, making you more prone to infections.
- Lung problems: Rheumatoid arthritis can significantly cause scarring and inflammation of your lung tissues, making you have breathing problems or shortness of breath.
- Lymphoma: In some complicated cases, rheumatoid arthritis can also increase your risk of developing lymphoma, which refers to a group of blood cancers mainly in the lymph system of the body.
Tips to manage rheumatoid arthritis
The right way to manage this joint condition is by sticking to your doctor’s advice and taking medication as prescribed. Along with that, several dietary and lifestyle modifications will also be needed.
- You must make it a point to physically change your position often, at least once every 10-15 minutes, while watching TV or working on your computer.
- Use tools specially designed for people with arthritis when doing kitchen work or other daily activities.
- Go for physiotherapy as recommended by your doctor and take adequate rest between your tasks to ensure that you don’t become overly tired and sore.
Most people with rheumatoid arthritis never have surgery but may elect to have surgery to reduce joint pain and improve everyday function. This is something you can discuss with an orthopedician.