Keep Your RA at Bay
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, swollen joints can make it hard to do normal things, like opening a jar or using a pair of scissors. Most RA sufferers would describe relief as going days in a row without pain and stiffness. If left unchecked, RA can lead to more pain and joint deformity.
Is there a way to lower the chances the disease will make it hard to do everyday things that make life enjoyable? Doctors say early treatment and lifestyle changes are your best options.
Prescription drugs are a vital part of treatment. You can find out which medications Florida Blue offers to combat RA by downloading your plan’s drug list from floridablue.com/medicare.
Do you have RA?
Rheumatoid arthritis is the second-most common form of arthritis. It’s different from its more familiar cousin, osteoarthritis, which is caused by joint wear and tear.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. That means your immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign cells and attacks them as if they were a disease. In the case of RA, your body attacks the lining that surrounds your joints. Disease-fighting antibodies are sent to the joints, and that creates a build-up of fluids. The build-up causes swelling and pain. Over time, the lining around your joints, as well as the ligaments and bones, becomes damaged. This can cause even more pain.
It often takes a while for doctors to diagnose RA. There is no test to prove you have the disease, and symptoms mimic several other disorders. Some signs you may have RA are:
- Swelling and redness in your joints, especially in your hands and feet
- Pain and stiffness in the morning
- Pain that lasts more than four hours
- Reduced range of motion
- Fatigue and/or fever
Treat RA Early
To treat RA, doctors take aggressive steps to lessen the inflammation that can cause joint damage. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatories and disease-modifying drugs.
Anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen and corticosteroids, can work immediately to lessen swelling. But they don’t address the underlying cause of the inflammation. Disease-modifying drugs (DMARDs) actually change the progression of RA. They help keep your immune system from over-reacting and attacking your joints.
Early treatment with DMARDs can prevent bone loss and other permanent damage from RA. In some cases, taking these drugs helps put the disease in remission. But because DMARDs suppress your immune system, they aren’t for everyone. Talk with your doctor to see what treatment is best for you.
Depending on how far your RA has progressed, physical therapy and surgery may also be part of your treatment plan.
How to cope
If you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis, flare-ups can make it painful to do everyday activities, like cooking or bathing. Medical treatment plays a big role in bringing relief. But you can also boost your quality of life with a few arthritis-friendly practices.
Exercising may be uncomfortable when you have swollen joints. But developing a consistent routine of light-activity exercises will offer many benefits. It can help you increase your range of motion and improve your flexibility.
Swimming, walking, using a treadmill or an elliptical machine, and any other low-impact exercises are usually good for RA patients, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Some types of yoga are also beneficial.
Working under the supervision of a personal trainer, you can also lift weights to build muscle, release pressure from weak joints and quicken recovery times.
There isn’t a specific diet to treat RA. But research shows certain foods can help control inflammation. “Good” anti-inflammatory foods can be found in the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fish and other lean meats, fruits and vegetables, and olive oil. “Bad” foods that promote inflammation include:
- Hydrogenated oils, saturate fats and trans fats
- Red meats and processed meats
- High-fat dairy products
- Refined sugar, aspartame and refined carbohydrates
Getting plenty of rest seems like it would be the opposite of getting plenty of physical activity. But the reality is, you need both. People with RA often feel ongoing fatigue, because their bodies are drained by the pain and stiffness they feel everyday. Rest brings relief. But too much rest can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, and that can cause even more pain.
If you have RA, find a balance between rest and exercise. Rest between activities to allow your muscles time to refuel. Spread your activities throughout the day and save the most strenuous ones for times when you have more energy.
If you’ve just learned you have rheumatoid arthritis, don’t let the fear and pain stop you from acting. Get treatment right away to lower your risk for joint damage. You can also get some relief by making lifestyle changes that ease the inflammation, pain and fatigue brought by RA.
Filed under: Medicare