An estimated 1.5 million adults in the United States have rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) mistakenly attacks the body’s own joints, causing the tissue inside the joints to swell and ache.
The disease can cause pain and joint deformities, contribute to depression, lost work days or the inability to work altogether.
In fact, the Arthritis Foundation says that because of the progressive nature of the disease, “approximately 20 to 70 percent of individuals who were working at the inception of their rheumatoid arthritis were disabled after seven to 10 years.”
Women are two to three times more likely to be affected by the disease than men.
For all these reasons it’s important to know the facts about rheumatoid arthritis and to receive early diagnosis and treatment. Here are the three most important things you need to know about the disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes tissues inside the joints of the body to thicken, resulting in inflammation and pain.
If the inflammation isn’t treated, or can’t be reduced by treatments, it can begin to damage the cartilage that provides padding on the end of long bones. It can also begin to damage the bones themselves. As cartilage is lost, the spacing between bones begins to shrink, causing bones to rub against themselves and joints to become loose and less mobile. If joints become deformed it is an irreversible condition.
Usually RA affects the joints on both side of the body in the hands, feet, wrist, elbows, knees and ankles. It is considered a “systemic” disease that affects the entire body. Early diagnosis and treatment of RA is important to avoid these adverse consequences.
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause anemia, increased depression, and a higher rate of death from other health conditions.
Some estimates show that a high rate of people with RA, 30 to 70 percent, develop anemia, a condition that causes a low red blood cell count and insufficient levels of a blood protein that carries oxygen. Increased rates of anemia in those with RA may occur because:
- Medications may suppress the function of the bone marrow, which manufactures red blood cells.
- Medications may make it more difficult for the body to absorb iron which can lead to anemia.
Approximately 17 percent of individuals with RA suffer from depression, a rate that is much higher than the general population.
Tragically, mortality in patients with RA is 60 to 70 percent higher than patients in the general population. According to the Arthritis Foundation, increased mortality was documented in RA patients with other health conditions at the following rates:
- Cardiovascular disease: 31 percent
- Pulmonary fibrosis: 4 percent
- Lymphoma: 2.3 percent
Diet and lifestyle changes can help to control the symptoms of RA.
The good news is that diet and lifestyle changes can help to control the symptoms of RA. Simple movements can help the joints and address aches and pains caused by the disease.
- Move slowly and gently when getting out of bed in the morning.
- Do targeted stretches that move each joint. Stretch each joint for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat the stretches two to three times per joint. This should include the fingers, toes, wrists, ankles, elbows, knees, shoulders, and neck.
- Warm the joints first thing in the morning with a heated blanket or a warm bath.
- Moderate exercise for five or ten minutes at at time can help to keep the joints mobile.
Diet can help to control RA as well. The Arthritis Foundation says eating the right anti-inflammatory foods can help individuals to maintain a diet with will avoid contributing to the inflammation. They include:
- Olive oil
- Milk, yogurt, cheese
- Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit
- Whole grains
There are also beverages that can help to avoid additional inflammation. They include:
- Red wine
- Beverages high in Vitamin C like orange, tomato, pineapple and carrot juice
- Smoothies made of fruits and vegetables
Rheumatoid arthritis can be debilitating. If you or a loved one consistently have aching, painful joints, see your doctor. Early detection and treatment is the best way to combat its symptoms, receive appropriate treatment and make the lifestyle changes necessary to fight the disease and its inflammation.
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