10 Don'ts for Rheumatoid Arthritis

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If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), there are many things you can do to make things better. Learning as much as you can about your disease and working closely with your doctors to find the best treatment are good first steps. It's also important to start treatment early and get the right balance of rest and exercise. You should do whatever you can to reduce everyday stress—a proven trigger of RA symptoms.

There are also some things you don't want to do because they can make your condition worse. Here are 10 of them:

  1. Don't smoke. RA is probably caused by a combination of the genes you are born with and certain events in your life that trigger those genes to become active. One of those triggers may be smoking.
  2. Don't be a couch potato. Unless your joints are very inflamed, you need to get up and exercise. Studies show that aerobic and strengthening exercises can help reduce the pain and stiffness of RA.
  3. Don't give up on having a baby. Women with RA have about the same chance of getting pregnant as women without RA. There is very little chance of passing RA to your baby. With some careful planning, there is no reason to avoid having children just because you have RA.
  4. Don't drink alcohol if you are taking RA medications before checking with your doctor. Although moderate drinking may have some health benefits for people with RA, certain RA medications do not mix well with alcohol. These include the common RA drug methotrexate and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  5. Don't spend all your time indoors. Getting about 15 minutes of sun exposure several days a week can help you get the vitamin D you need. Your skin uses the sun's rays to produce vitamin D. Studies show that vitamin D is important for your immune system and may help prevent or relieve symptoms of RA. You also need vitamin D to absorb calcium, important for keeping your bones healthy. Supplements are another option for getting your vitamin D (without increasing your risk of skin cancer).
  6. Don't fall for any special diets that claim to cure RA. The best diet is well balanced and based on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with some healthy unsaturated (not saturated) fat. Radical diets that claim to cure RA or dramatically reduce your symptoms probably won't work and could be dangerous.
  7. Don't take fish oil supplements before checking with your doctor. There is some evidence that the omega-3 fatty acids found in coldwater fish may be good for people with RA. Eating fish is fine, but taking high doses of supplements could interfere with several common medications and cause dangerous side effects.
  8. Don't forget to brush your teeth. Studies show that gum disease resulting from poor oral hygiene may be a trigger for RA symptoms. Having RA can also make it more likely that you will get gum disease. Make sure to brush after every meal and at bedtime. Schedule regular dental exams and cleanings<.
  9. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Having an unpredictable and lifelong disease is stressful. Don't be shy about reaching out for help and emotional support. Having a support system of caregivers and loved ones means less stress and more rest.
  10. Don't be discouraged. It's not easy to live with RA, but RA is not the same disease it once was. New medications have improved your doctor's ability to halt or slow down the progression of RA, and more are being developed all the time. The future has never looked better for people with RA.

Key Takeaways

  • Part of good care for RA includes changing bad lifestyle habits.

  • Work with your medical team rather than trying gimmicks that promise a cure.

  • Don't forget to ask for help, because having support is important.

  • Don't ever give up hope. The future is brighter than ever for people with RA.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 29

  1. Cherniack EP. A Ray of Hope for Tender Joints: Vitamin D and Rheumatoid Arthritis. The Journal of Rheumatology. 2011;38(1):5-7. http://jrheum.org/content/38/1/5.full

  2. Sofat N, Keat A. Alcohol Intake in Rheumatic Disease: Good or Bad? Rheumatology. 2002;41(2):125–128. http://rheumatology.oxfordjournals.org/content/41/2/125.full

  3. Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/causes.php

  4. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gum Disease. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/comorbidities/gum-disease/ra-and-gum-disease.php

  5. Exercising With Rheumatoid Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/how-to/exercising-with-ra.php 

  6. Tips for managing Rheumatoid Arthritis. Healthywomen.org. http://www.healthywomen.org/content/article/tips-managing-rheumatoid-arthritis

  7. Role of Nutrition in Rheumatoid Arthritis Management. Johns Hopkins Rheumatology. http://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/rheumatoid-arthrtis-nutrition/

  8. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Myths and Realities. Hospital for Special Surgery. http://www.hss.edu/conditions_rheumatoid-arthritis-myths-and-realities.asp

  9. Rheumatoid Arthritis. PubMed Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001467/

  10. Rheumatoid Arthritis & Pregnancy. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. http://www.nras.org.uk/rheumatoid-arthritis-pregnancy

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