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All About Rheumatoid Arthritis

May 8, 2024 | Inflammation & Autoimmune Disease

Rheumatoid arthritis is the third most common autoimmune disease. This disease affects the joints, and can be a debilitating condition if not managed properly. However, there are a lot of alternative treatments to consider when living with RA. Today I’m going to describe what this disease is, how it is conventionally treated, and what alternative options you can investigate to help you live a normal life with RA.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that attacks your own body’s tissues. It mainly affects the joints, but can also affect other body systems including the blood vessels, eyes, heart, lungs and skin.

Most people with RA see this disease affect joints on both sides of the body. In other words it’s a symmetrical attack on the joints and tissues. When the body attacks the tissues, the immune system releases inflammatory chemicals that destroy the synovium of the joints. The synovium is the tissue lining the joints that helps the joint move smoothly. When this tissue is destroyed, it becomes thicker and causes pain in the joint area. As the disease progresses on the joint, it can become difficult to move and, eventually, may become deformed.

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The underlying cause of RA, like other autoimmune diseases, is unclear. Women are more at risk of developing RA than men. In fact, women are 3 times as likely to get RA than men. Other risk factors include:

  • Genetics: having a family member with RA increases your risk of developing this disease.
  • Smoking: long term smokers are at a higher risk of getting RA. For those who have RA and continue to smoke, it increases the severity of the disease.
  • Obesity: those who carry excess weight are also at a higher risk of developing RA.
  • Environmental exposures: infections and toxins have been linked to autoimmune disease and the development of autoantibodies
  • Emotional trauma: adverse childhood experiences, stress, abuse, and neglect are all underlying causes of autoimmune disease. In fact, one study found that adults with RA and a history of trauma had more pain than patients with no history of trauma.

How is RA Treated?

Conventional Treatments

The goal of conventional treatments is to lower inflammation. There are a handful of options now for rheumatoid arthritis patients to consider. These are:

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
    • These drugs block prostaglandins, which are substances that your body makes at inflammatory spots in the body. Blocking prostaglandins helps stop inflammation. Advil, motrin, aleve are all NSAIDs.
  • Corticosteroids
    • These drugs reduce inflammation by mimicking cortisol, a stress hormone in your body that also has anti-inflammatory properties. Prednisone is a corticosteroid. These are fast acting but not to be used in the long run.
  • Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)
    • DMARDs slow down inflammation that attacks the joints. They are not fast acting, which is why they are used in conjunction with other medications until the kick in. Some doctors will use a combination of DMARDs to reach the desired effect. DMARDs include methotrexate, Otezla, Xeljanz and Rinvoq.
  • Biologics
    • These are a type of DMARD that are a lot more powerful and more expensive. They are administered either through a shot or as an infusion. Each biologic works on a different part of the immune system to stop inflammation. For instance, there are TNF inhibitors that block tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which are inflammatory proteins. There are also B-cell inhibitors that interrupt B cell signaling.
Alternative Treatments

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Conventional treatments have been very effective in most cases, but  not all. So if you are still struggling with joint pain, what else can you consider? Here are some options for you:

  • Diet
    • Diet plays a big role in systemic inflammation. Switching to an anti-inflammatory diet helps support your body to fight inflammation. Bioactive components in plants and animal products are very effective at fighting inflammation.
  • Supplements
    • Omega 3 fish oil and turmeric are 2 of the most studied supplements for RA. Both have shown to lower inflammation and joint pain.
  • Stress reduction
    • Stress is a big trigger for RA flares. Learning stress reducing techniques such as meditation, deep breathing and visualization strategies can help lower stress and inflammation.
  • Sleep
    • Getting adequate and high quality sleep is key for lowering inflammation.
  • Movement
    • Keeping your joints moving is critical for joint health and mobility. There are a number of videos on youtube for joint exercises. In addition, moving your body as a whole can help keep inflammation in check.

Getting an RA diagnosis can be incredibly scary. However, there are plenty of ways you can live happily with your disease. Finding the right combination of treatment plans is key. If you are interested in learning more about how food and lifestyle can help your RA, please contact me to learn more about how I can help. As an RA warrior myself, I have a lot of experience with this autoimmune disease.

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