Dr. Mehjabin Prodhani is a qualified dental surgeon, with over 7 years of combined experience in patient management, clinical dentistry, scientific and consumer medical writing. She has wide range of experience in the field of medical writing, including writing and developing abstracts, manuscripts, clinical study reports, review articles, drug monographs, scientific news reports, disease or drug-related educational articles, consumer and health research articles.
Rheumatoid Arthritis as we know is an auto-immune disorder, in which the body’s defense mechanism begins to attack its tissues. Many studies have analyzed what triggers RA though the exact reasons are still not yet known. The combination of both genetic and environmental factors cause body’s immune system to go haywire and start attacking its cells. Rheumatoid Arthritis is unfortunately not yet a curable disease. If anyone states otherwise, it is not only ethically and medically wrong, but also a disservice to the patients by raising false expectations.
At the same time, there have been some medical advances in better understanding the mechanism through which the body’s immune system attacks itself. The new line of medicines attempts to dial down our immune system that has gone into a hyperactive state. Dietary modifications and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help an RA patient manage the disease symptoms and delay the damage it causes in various parts of the body. As a matter of fact, RA can also go into remission for several years, although it would resurface at some later point.
Here are 9 ways to manage your RA.
As many RA patients would attest, certain foods can trigger a flare-up of RA. Instead of prescribing a generic list of foods that should be avoided, it is best for each patient to observe and note what causes flare-ups and avoid those specific foods to the extent possible.
Typically, spicy and fried items, hard to digest food, sugary foods, and drinks, calorie-rich foods are to be avoided. Some food items that are highly recommended for RA patients include those that are rich in Omega-3 supplements, food containing natural anti-inflammatory ingredients such as garlic, ginger, diet rich in fiber content, fruits and vegetables and antioxidants. Certain spices like Turmeric are also known to reduce the inflammation in the body.
Again, it is important to mention that what works for one RA patient may not work for others. As a thumb rule, it is best to go for a diet that is easily digestible, keeps your gut clean and is rich in anti-inflammatory foods. Much information exists on the web these days about the suggested diets.
Excess body weight affects individuals who are pre-disposed to having RA as well as those that already have RA. According to a study carried out by Mayo Clinic, an obese person defined as having a BMI of 30 and above was 25% more likely to developing RA compared to a normal weight individual.  This was attributed to the role fat cells play in stoking the inflammation in the body. Excess weight also puts the joints at more stress that exacerbates the damage RA causes in joints. Several studies have also found that RA drugs work better if an excess weight patient can lose few pounds to reach a normal body weight.
Losing weight involves working on many aspects in parallel, including diet control as well as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which we talk about next.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, but even more so for an RA patient. However, what is a healthy lifestyle? Again, no generic one style fits everyone, but these are some of the basic questions to ask oneself.
- Do you get enough time for a 7-8 hour sleep?
- Do you have at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity or moderate exercise?
- Do you have any hobby or passion that helps you de-stress?
- Is your food intake proper and provides good nutrition?
- Have you quit bad habits like smoking and excess alcohol intake?
Let us be honest, a chronic disease such as Rheumatoid Arthritis does not just impact an individual physically but often also leads to episodes of depression and self-pity. It becomes critical to find ways to get the emotional support, and several ways exist. As the disease does not always present symptoms that are externally visible, it is important to make your family and friends well aware about the disease.
One should also become active on various Internet forums to interact with other patients who are going through a similar struggle. This brings not only an emotional support but also awareness about what others are doing to help with their symptoms. Yoga and similar other meditation exercises can also help boost positive emotions and reduce mental stress.
A chronic disease like Rheumatoid Arthritis requires a patient from keeping herself up-to-date and well-informed on ways to successfully manage it. As a matter of fact, disease awareness should be the very first and most important aspect of managing RA. Many resources today exist that provide well-researched and credible information about RA. The earlier understanding was that RA mainly impacts the synovial joints, but research is now pointing to other dangerous effects associated with RA about cardiovascular aspects. It is only through awareness that an RA patient can keep up-to-date and take required protective steps in collaboration with their primary doctor. Awareness also helps RA patients learn about various drugs and their side-effects. It can also help RA patients separate out the possible therapies from the quacks that often come with lofty but unproven claims about curing RA.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a complex disease that has several overlapping symptoms with other illnesses like Lupus, Fibromyalgia, especially in the early stages. In many cases, despite repeated tests, physicians find it hard to confirm whether a person has RA or not.
Nonetheless, it is important for patients to monitor their health, especially in two aspects on a routine basis. First, as we all know, RA damages the synovial membrane around joints. These damages become first evident in smaller joints like those of knuckles. Blood tests can also indicate the level of inflammation present in the body by analyzing markets like C-reactive protein, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), and level of hemoglobin.
Another equally important aspect often ignored is about the cardiovascular health. The inflammation present in our body does not just affect the joints but can also lead to cardiovascular issues like stroke and atrial fibrillation i.e. an irregular heartbeat. Monitoring of early indicators such as pulse measurement, blood pressure monitoring and ECG can provide an early warning in such cases.
Rheumatoid Arthritis, thanks to the research carried out has several drugs available for managing inflammation at different stages of the disease. These include the NSAIDS, corticosteroid, disease modifying or DMARD’s, biologics to name a few. Each patient’s body can react differently to each drug on aspects of efficacy and side-effects. Therefore, it is important to evaluate in collaboration with your physician and try out the therapy that best suits you. Though strictly not medicines, injection of hyaluronic acid can also be considered for providing relief to RA patients suffering from knee or hip joint damage. 
Physiotherapy primarily aims at helping relieve various symptoms associated with the RA disease. These include treatments for pain relief, muscle strength, and relaxation. Many options exist including heat and ice therapy, hydrotherapy, ultrasound and electrical stimulation. In advanced stages, a physiotherapist can help you identify the activities that are safer and low-impact to engage. 
In some cases where the RA disease was not carefully managed, and the disease has caused significant damage to joints such as the knee, surgery may become the last and best resort. A surgery called synovectomy is carried out to remove the damaged synovial tissue
In cases where the damage has reached to an extent that leads to severe disability and chronic pain, joint replacement surgeries can be carried out. These surgeries have become quite safe and result in a much higher quality of life for the patients.
- Contribution of obesity to the rise in incidence of rheumatoid arthritis; Crowson, Cynthia S.; Matteson, Eric L.; Davis, John M.; Gabriel, Sherine E; Arthritis Care and Research, Volume 65 (1) – Jan 1, 2013