Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): 5 Things to Know
If you have recently been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may have many questions and concerns. While RA can develop at any age, those in their twenties and thirties typically begin to show signs of stiffness, joint pain and fatigue. This is caused when your immune system attacks the synovium (lining of the joints), producing painful inflammation. The seriousness of a person’s RA can range from mild, moderate or severe.
RA is an internal inflammatory autoimmune disease. Others may not understand the level of your pain because it is not easily visible, such as a cast from a broken bone. You may appear fine on the outside but still be experiencing severe joint pain. Here we will answer some other questions you or others may have about your rheumatoid arthritis.
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- This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Arthritis
Many people do not understand that there is a distinct difference between your rheumatoid arthritis and the osteoarthritis they often hear about. You have an autoimmune disease that can occur at any age. The typical arthritis that your grandmother may have had developed due to wear and tear on the joints after many years of use.
It is important for those around you to understand the seriousness of your disease. Do not be afraid to explain your symptoms, that may include:
- Fatigue, weight loss or fever
- Warm or tender swollen joints
- Joint stiffness that tends to increase with inactivity or during the mornings
Educating those around you will help them to better understand that even if they cannot see your inner pain, it is still real and does affect your well being.
- Chronic Fatigue Will Not Be Cured With a Nap
Close to 89% of RA sufferers will experience chronic fatigue. Some patients describe their fatigue as feeling like they have the flu and a high fever. It completely saps your energy, leaving you exhausted and weak. Family members may suggest taking a nap. Explain to them this is not the same as being sleepy.
You can decrease the effects of fatigue by making some lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy diet and staying active but not overdoing your daily activities. Plenty of nightly sleep is important. You may experience flare ups of fatigue, but if you are constantly feeling exhausted you should speak with your rheumatologist. This could indicate that your treatments are not working as they should.
- RA Can Affect Other Areas of the Body
Early onset RA usually begins with pain in the joints of fingers and toes. Symptoms can then spread to joints of the hips, elbows, shoulders, wrists, ankles and knees. But, RA can also affect other parts of the body. For instance, your risk for heart disease will most certainly increase. In fact, it is the number one cause of death for RA sufferers. High blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels are also risk factors.
Do not smoke, or quit if you do. Maintaining a healthy, low-fat diet and adding cardio to your workout can lower your risk. Some other non-joint areas of the body that can be affected are:
- Skin, eyes or salivary glands
- Lungs, kidneys or nerve tissue
- Bone marrow or blood vessels
- The Pain Is Real Even If They Don’t See It
Some people will have a hard time sympathizing with you when they cannot see the pain you are in. You may appear healthy from the outside, so others will assume you are fine on the inside. When in public, do your best to disregard negative looks while using a handicapped parking spot or a motorized shopping cart. Your pain from inflammation and flare ups is real. Tasks that used to be easy, like walking in a parking lot, may now be almost impossible with your RA.
Many people do not understand the damage that RA can cause to the joints. It can be severe enough to require joint replacement surgery. Patients may also be on a number of different medications and coping with the side effects of those drugs. Have a strong support system of family and friends who you can confide in during those painful periods, to offer you the empathy you need.
- There Is No Diet That Will Cure RA
Well meaning friends and family may begin to suggest ways to cure your rheumatoid arthritis. But RA is a genetic, autoimmune disease and no amount of krill oil or a strict gluten-free diet is going to change that.
There are foods that are known to ease your symptoms. A Mediterranean diet uses healthy foods with natural chemicals that will lower your chances for inflammation. These foods include:
- Fruit and vegetables – These are full of antioxidants that lower inflammation. Try fruits, such as oranges, melons, blueberries and blackberries. Vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and squash are also great choices.
- Whole grains, beans and vegetables – These are all a great source of fiber which is essential to a healthy diet.
- Fish – Healthy fats from omega-3 fatty acids are found in sardines, anchovies, salmon and herring.
- Olive oil – This is another healthy fat that also lowers inflammation. Use olive oil in place of butter as a healthy alternative.
The protein gluten is found in barley, wheat and rye, as well as many other foods. There is no evidence that maintaining a gluten-free diet will do anything to improve your RA symptoms. If you want to give up gluten, speak with your doctor first to ensure that you will be getting all of the nutrients and vitamins you need from your diet.