Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a disease that plays havoc on your joint. It causes pain, swelling and stiffness and is becoming more and more common around the world.
I’ve officially been diagnosed for just over a year and a half now although, I believe I’ve suffered for much longer. Not only is it a disease that can take your dependency from you, but it can also be invisible to others. How frustrating?!
If you’ve recently been diagnosed or know someone suffering from the illness, these are 5 things you need to know:
1. It’s an autoimmune condition
Most people are unaware that RA is actually an autoimmune disease. This is where your immune system mistakenly attacks your body. Normally your body will guard you against foreign bodies to help keep you fit and healthy. However, in the case of someone with an autoimmune condition, the immune system is on high alert and most of the time mistakes your body for a foreign object and releases proteins called autoantibodies to fight it, causing pain to joints and muscles.
There a number of other common conditions which fall into the bracket of autoimmune including:
- Grave’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Reactive arthritis
It is highly likely that you know someone with one of the above diseases. The good thing though, is that they all have the same thing in common, they can all be managed by good diets and healthy living.
2. Food does have an impact
To anyone that says “food has no impact on how you feel” (and I’ve heard this said so many times), I call uber shenanigans. For a large portion of my life, I remember being unable to finish a meal due to the pain I would feel in my abdomen. When I was 14, I remember being bent over in agony whilst trying to concentrate in my English Lit class. No one took any notice and I took no notice because I thought it was normal. After all, so many other people I knew would complain of similar issues.
It was only when I changed my diet after the RA diagnosis, that I realised that kind of pain wasn’t normal. When I got diagnosed I was keen to ensure I limited the amount of medication I took, so instead, I looked for other ways to reduce the symptoms. Changes to diet kept on appearing in my search fields and I realised I needed to give this a shot.
I found an amazing book by Amy Meyers called The Autoimmune Solution. This details how a low inflammation diet can have fantastic benefits for those who are living with an autoimmune condition.
There are so many different types of foods out there, each with their own benefits. However, it’s important to understand how they impact the function of your body. Have you ever heard the quote “Don’t dig your grave with your own knife and fork”. I love this. It really puts in perspective how what you put on your knife and fork can really have an effect on how you feel.
3. Limit your stress
With our lives becoming ever more hectic, it can be difficult to keep stress levels down. However, if you have RA, you need to lower your stress levels. It’s not fully clear why stress has such an impact, however, Richard Roseff, MD, a rheumatologist in private practice in Danbury and Ridgefield, Connecticut, states “Whether it’s rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or lupus, any condition plus stress makes the condition worse. We know that there can be rheumatoid arthritis flares from a clear reason, like an injury, but stress can be a factor in the worsening of RA”.
Since journalling my condition, there have been countless times where I’ve been stressed and almost instantly, I’ve started to feel tingles and pains forming in my joints. The connection between stress and RA has been brought to life in a number of studies published by the Arthritis Research & Therapy.
One of the most interesting results showed that people who have experienced childhood drama have a higher risk of developing a rheumatic disease.
The best thing to do is to identify the root cause of your stress, so you can address it before it takes over and causes you pain.
4. Women are more prone to developing it
In a study carried out by Ronald Van Vollenhoven, part of Rheumatology, Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden, he confirms that women are up to three times more likely to develop the condition over men, along with a number of other autoimmune conditions.
There are a number of studies that link hormonal and environmental situations to the cause of the disease. However, the one big thing that shocks me every time is how women who are pregnant and have RA, can find their symptoms disappear through their pregnancy. Some even go into remission. No one can say why this happens however a number of studies point to changes in the protein levels which contribute to inflammation.
5. Staying active can help reduce pain
There’s a lot of people that may say to avoid exercise if you have RA. This is so wrong. Exercise, even if low impact, is not only great for RA but will also aid in a healthy lifestyle. When I first started on my road into remission, I mainly stuck to low impact exercises – so lots of stationary activities (no jumping around). However, once I sorted my diet, stress etc out and I felt more confident in working out, I’ve been able to introduce more high impact exercises and cardio which I thoroughly enjoy.
“In general, patients with RA can engage in any reasonable activity,” says sports medicine and orthopaedic expert Mark Galland, MD, a managing partner of Orthopaedic Specialists of North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C., who frequently works with patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
“You’ll be moving your joints, so they’re less likely to stiffen and cause pain,” says Stephen Soloway, MD, a rheumatologist at Arthritis and Rheumatology Associates in Vineland, N.J.
Just make sure you work with your doctor so you can ensure you understand your limits. Don’t push too hard and make sure you enjoy it.
I hope this has been helpful.