Integrative Approaches for Rheumatoid Arthritis
When people hear the word “arthritis,” they envision a condition that tends to strike older adults. Pain in the affected joints, swelling, and stiffness are a few of the most common symptoms that you might associate with arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, though it has some similarities to arthritis, has many key differences that need to be understood in order to treat it successfully.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Basics
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that tends to come on gradually. It’s often marked by times when the symptoms become worse then get better before the cycle starts all over again. Similar to other autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis occurs because the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. In this case, it’s the joints that are the focus of these attacks.
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis isn’t completely understood. Most experts think a combination of environmental factors, genetics, hormones and lifestyle are at play. This causes inflammation of the joints and a thickening of the joint capsule itself. While the disease can affect any area of the body, the hands and wrists are the most common location.
Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis
While one of the most important elements when diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis is a thorough medical exam that includes learning about your symptoms, it’s also important to rule out other diseases that have similar symptoms. These can include fibromyalgia, systemic lupus erythematosus, and psoriatic arthritis. Laboratory tests and x-rays can help your doctor definitely diagnose you with rheumatoid arthritis. For many people, the same joints on both sides of the body are affected.
In addition to painful joints that are often warm and swollen, other signs that you might have this chronic disease could include a low-grade fever, stiffness that’s worse after rest, fatigue and difficulty with daily movements like walking and navigating steps.
Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Currently, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Instead, treatment focuses on reducing both inflammation and pain with the end goal of improving overall function. Like most other medical conditions, early intervention is advised to help safeguard mobility and to reduce the disease’s effects on other parts of your body.
Though rheumatoid arthritis can affect anyone of any age, it’s most commonly diagnosed in women who are between 40 and 50 years of age. It’s important to note that if you have rheumatoid arthritis, you are at an increased risk for other, serious conditions including lung fibrosis, vasculitis, myocardial infarction and other cardiovascular diseases, anemia, chest pains and more.
If you are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, it’s likely that your doctor will recommend that you start a regiment of medication therapy in order to slow the progression of the disease. Steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are a few common classifications of medications that could be prescribed. As with all pharmaceutical medications, there are risks of adverse effects with the aforementioned treatment options.
Suggestions for Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis Naturally
Today, many doctors encourage their patients to approach their health holistically. This means that when it comes to treating a chronic and systemic disease like rheumatoid arthritis, a treatment plan that takes your lifestyle, diet and other factors into consideration is likely to provide you with a better quality of life and outcome.
1. Overhaul your diet
Gluten has been proven to be a trigger for many people with rheumatoid arthritis, Dairy, soy, corn, beef, malt and sugar have also been identified as triggers. Keeping a food diary to identify which foods are your personal triggers is a good idea.
Be sure to add in healthy and natural foods with a focus on eating organic whenever possible. Use olive oil, eat omega-3 fatty acid foods and add fresh fruits and vegetables to every meal.
2. Add supplements
Consider adding supplements to your daily routine if your diet doesn’t include ample amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and the B vitamins. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis often have low levels of zinc, copper, vitamin E and Vitamin C so adding these supplements can help reduce inflammation and protect joint tissues.
3. Exercise daily
Even when you’re experiencing increased pain and stiffness because of rheumatoid arthritis, it’s still important to stay active. Yoga is helpful because it allows you to stretch and can easily be modified. Swimming is another good choice due to the weightlessness that it adds to your routine. Something as simple as walking to around the block can help ward off stiffness.
4. Try alternative therapies
Your doctor might suggest that you try physical therapy to protect your range of motion. Other therapies that can benefit those with rheumatoid arthritis include acupuncture and tai chi.
It’s important to work together with your medical provider to determine the best supplements, exercises and alternative therapies when treating your rheumatoid arthritis. Not only does doing so provide you with a well-rounded treatment plan, it also helps reduce any possible interactions.