Eating healthy, getting some exercise, and resting when you need to can make a big difference when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA)…
Eat to Move
Though diet doesn’t cure RA, the same healthy eating habits that are good for the rest of you are also good for your joints. That includes whole grains, vegetables, fruit, fish, and other types of lean protein. Some foods may help with joint swelling, such as fish oils, nuts, and tea. Limit sugar, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and any foods that seem to aggravate your joints.
Exercise helps keep your joints moving and strengthens the muscles around them. If you’re overweight, exercise can also help you lose pounds, which will ease the stress on your joints. Include aerobic or cardio exercise, strength training, and flexibility movements. A physical therapist or a trainer with experience in RA can help you get started safely.
Rest When You Need To
Though you need to be active, make time for rest, too. RA can make you feel especially tired. Don’t try to do more than you can handle. Take breaks whenever you need them. Get at least 8 hours of sleep at night, plus an extra nap during the day if you feel drained.
Try Physical Therapy
Physical therapy can make your life easier. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help you get stronger and move better, without hurting yourself. If getting around or doing simple tasks is hard, ask your therapist about tools and devices that can help.
If You Smoke, Quit
Smoking makes your RA symptoms worse and your treatments less effective. If you’ve tried to quit before, keep trying! And while an occasional drink may be OK for some people, check with your doctor, since alcohol can interact with RA drugs and damage your liver.
Use Coolness and Warmth
When your joints ache, try changing the temperature for soothing relief. Soak in a warm bath, linger under a warm shower, or hold a moist heating pad to sore spots to ease tense muscles. Apply a cool compress or cold pack to numb fiery joints. You can switch between cold and heat to get both benefits.
Give It Time to Work
RA treatments can reduce your pain, stiffness, and fatigue, but not overnight. It may take a few weeks or months to feel better. If you’re starting a new drug, ask your doctor when you should begin to notice a difference and what sorts of changes to expect. If the time passes and you don’t feel better, let your doctor know.
Reviewed by David Zelman, MD
Complications Of Rheumatoid Arthritis
When you have RA, you are more likely to also have certain other conditions, such as these:
- Heart disease
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Rheumatoid lung disease
If you have anemia, you have a low level of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all parts of the body. Anemia is common in people with RA and can usually be treated. Anemia of chronic disease is often seen in people with inflammation. People with RA can also develop iron deficiency anemia. Certain RA medications can cause blood loss due to stomach irritation. These include anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids.
Symptoms: Fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headaches, and shortness of breath are the hallmarks of anemia. People with anemia sometimes have pale skin, brittle nails, cold hands and feet, chest pain, or an irregular heartbeat.
Treatment: When someone with RA has anemia, the first step is to reduce inflammation and get RA under control. Some RA drugs also help treat anemia caused by chronic disease. Other treatments include iron supplements, if you have iron deficiency anemia. You can also get anemia due to blood loss. Some RA medications can cause blood loss due to stomach irritation. It’s important to find the cause of any blood loss.
People with RA are more likely than other people to get heart disease or have a stroke. Doctors aren’t sure why that is. It may be related to inflammation.
Symptoms: Heart disease does not always show symptoms before a crisis (like a heart attack or stroke) happens. Your doctor can check on your cholesterol, blood pressure, and other risk factors.
Treatment: As in people without RA, a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise are key to preventing heart disease and stroke. Other important steps are quitting smoking, losing extra weight (which also helps your joints), and reducing stress. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to lower cholesterol or blood pressure.
Eye Problems: Sjogren’s Syndrome
Sjogren’s syndrome affects the glands that make tears and saliva. It’s related to inflammation and is usually less severe in people who also have RA than in those who don’t have RA.
Symptoms: For people with RA, the most common symptom of Sjogren’s is dry eyes and mouth. The condition can also show up as dry skin, less sweating, and dry coughing.
Treatment: The main treatment for dry eyes is artificial tears. Some people may need special eye lubricants. Severe cases may need medications to suppress the inflammation. Rare cases need surgery to help preserve tears.
Rheumatoid Lung Disease
This group of lung diseases can include scarring in the lungs, fluid in the chest, lumps in the lungs, or other problems.
Symptoms: There aren’t always symptoms, but if there are, they may include cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain.
Treatment: The first step is bringing inflammation under control. Your doctor may need to drain fluid around your lungs. If you have interstitial lung disease, your doctor may prescribe steroids or other medications to reduce scarring. If scar tissue has built up in the lungs, it can’t be reversed, but medications may slow down the damage.
Blood Flow Problems: Vasculitis
Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels. It’s most common in advanced RA.
The amount of damage depends on the size of the arteries affected. Inflammation of small and medium arteries, like those that lead to the fingertips and nails, can damage skin and tissues. When vasculitis hits larger arteries, it can lead to nerve damage, loss of function in the arms or legs, or harm to internal organs.
Symptoms: Symptoms vary, depending on what part of the body is affected.
Treatment: Because vasculitis often means that RA has gotten worse, treatment usually involves getting RA under control.
Symptoms: Different people have different symptoms, but some of the most common symptoms of depression are deep feelings of sadness, anxiety, emptiness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt; loss of interest in activities or hobbies that you once enjoyed; insomnia; and difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
Treatment: The most common treatments for depression are antidepressants and therapy, often together. If you have symptoms of depression, tell your doctor so that you can talk about the best treatment for you and get started ASAP.
In osteoporosis, bones are fragile and thin, making them more likely to break. People with RA are more likely than other people to get osteoporosis. RA itself may cause bone loss, and some medications, such as steroids, can cause bone loss. Also, if RA pain makes you less active, that may make you more likely to get osteoporosis.
Symptoms: Osteoporosis usually doesn’t have any signs until its late stages, when people may have back pain, stooped posture, a curved upper back, and fractures. They may also lose height.
Treatment: Treating and preventing osteoporosis includes eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, doing weight-bearing exercises such as walking or lifting weights, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol. If needed, there are medications to treat and prevent osteoporosis.