Rheumatoid Arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune disorder, causing your immune system to attack the joints, causing a painful inflammation. Unlike other forms of arthritis like osteoarthritis, RA also attacks the organs like the heart, eyes and lungs. Of the 100+ forms of arthritis, this is one of the most debilitating varieties.
Rheumatoid Arthritis affects 1 out of 100 North Americans, or 2.1 million people, and women are three times more likely to get the disease than men. The cause of RA is unknown, but a popular theory points to the disease being infectious as those who have close friends or family with the disorder are more likely to develop it themselves. Susceptibility to the disease may also be an inherited trait as well.
Early detection is vital in treating RA because the most damage is done within the first two years, with 75% of the damage occurring within the first five years. While there is no cure or preventative measure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are a number of treatments to alleviate symptoms. Each type of drug includes its own side effects- make sure that you are informed about the medication you are taking, and report any side effects to your doctor.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, or NSAIDs, reduce the pain and swelling of the joints. Many can be had without a prescription, like acetylsalicylic acid and ibuprofen. In more severe cases your doctor can prescribe a stronger NSAID. Omega-3, found in fatty fish, also works to shorten the period of stiffness in the morning, one of the major symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Add salmon or albacore tuna to your diet, or try an Omega-3 supplement like Omega Daily.
Disease-Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs, known as DMARDs, are slow-acting and may take weeks to take effect. While NSAIDs are effective in relieving pain short term, DMARDs are a long term treatment meant to reduce damage to the joint and bone. Methotrexate is the most widely used DMARD.
Biologic Response Modifiers are a third medication for RA sufferers, although it is extremely cost prohibitive, costing upwards of $25,000 a year and is rarely covered by insurance. Biologic Response Modifiers, called Biologics for short, work by decreasing inflammation. They are usually paired with other medication.
There are a number of things you can do yourself to make living with the disease easier. While it is tempting to put as little exertion on your sore joints as possible, keeping active is essential to enjoying life with rheumatoid arthritis. This is for a number of reasons. The first is that regular exercise strengthens the muscles around the joint and increases flexibility. Try low-impact activities, like swimming. Try not to partake in any activities that involve too much exertion, which causes more harm than good. Use heat and cold to your advantage, easing pain. Heat should be applied only when the joint is not inflamed, and preferably in the form of a bath or hot shower. Use cold packs on the inflamed joint directly or after strenuous use of the joint.