Valerie Smith, APRN
8 Ways to Manage Your Rheumatoid Arthritis and Help Reduce Flares
Living with rheumatoid arthritis is difficult, to say the least. The aches and pains, the disruption to your daily routine, the mental toll - it is all hard to tolerate.
While there may not be a specific cure for this disease, proper and effective management is the best approach to improving your condition.
Listed below are some common recommendations that help patients living with rheumatoid arthritis.
MEDICATION: With today’s scientific advancements, there are more options than ever before. For many rheumatic diseases, prescription treatment is necessary to calm the autoimmune/inflammatory process. The goal is to control inflammation while treating the symptoms of your disease. But the purpose of medication goes beyond just treating the here and now. Medication helps you avoid irreversible damage to joints and organs, allowing you to live an active, healthier lifestyle for years to come.
WEIGHT MANAGEMENT: Adipose tissue, or fat, produces inflammatory cytokines which can exacerbate inflammatory diseases. As explained by the Arthritis Foundation, “A 2018 study published in International Journal of Clinical Rheumatology reviewed the records of 171 RA patients and found that overweight or obese people who lost at least 5 kg (10.2 pounds) were three times as likely to have improved disease activity compared to those who did not lose weight.” Weight loss has other benefits as well, including less pressure on your joints, reduced inflammation, and even an improved chance of remission.
EXERCISE: As cliche as it sounds, a body in motion stays in motion. There is so much truth to Newton’s First Law of Motion. The more an arthritis patient moves, the better! Even if you are not at your ideal weight, some form of exercise is extremely beneficial. Walking, water-based exercise, biking, aerobics, yoga, and tai chi are just a few exercise options. Anything and everything is helpful! Stronger muscles are able to better support joints. Make it your goal to exercise more days than not as movement is critical.
DIET AND NUTRITION: There is no magic formula here. What works for some, may not be the best solution for others. In general, seek out a clean, unprocessed, low sugar, plant-based, organic diet. A good rule of thumb is to avoid the ingredients you cannot pronounce or identify. Click here to read our Beginner’s Guide to an Anti-Inflammatory Diet to learn what you should eat to help reduce flares.
SLEEP: Getting quality rest is important. A Healthline.com article reads: “During sleep, your immune system produces protective chemicals that help fight infection. If you don’t get enough shut-eye, your immune system can’t perform this important function. It’s especially important to get enough sleep if you have RA, because your immune system is already compromised.”
MENTAL HEALTH: If you feel down or anxious, seek out help. If you are showing signs of depression, the professional guidance of a therapist or counselor can be life-changing. Research suggests that those living with RA are more susceptible to mental health challenges. The Arthritis Foundation states: “We know that pain and disability are linked to depression in arthritis, but a developing theory is that inflammation also plays a role. A 2016 study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reviewed levels of C-reactive protein – a marker of inflammation – in 10,036 people who responded to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Those with symptoms of depression had CRP levels that were 31% higher than those with no depressive symptoms.”
DENTAL HYGIENE: Studies show that periodontal disease (ie, gingivitis) is actually a risk factor for developing rheumatoid arthritis. Here’s the bottom line: you need to brush and floss your teeth daily. In addition, see your dentist on a regular basis. Watch for signs of infection, bacterial or fungal and take appropriate measures if you suspect a problem.
SMOKING: Quit smoking! While this is easier said than done, tobacco use is the largest known risk factor for developing rheumatoid arthritis. Tobacco use also predicts a poorer response to treatment. But when you stop smoking, you increase your odds of remission.
At Paducah Rheumatology, we understand the struggles of living with rheumatoid arthritis. Incorporating habits that lead to a healthy lifestyle can feel overwhelming and just another to-do list. Begin by taking one step in the right direction. Simply choose one area to focus on and improve from there. We know you can do this and we’re here to cheer you on!