11 Truths About RA
- 1. RA Affects More than 1 Million AmericansArthritis can be degenerative or inflammatory. And there are several types of inflammatory arthritis, in which a reaction from the body's immune system causes joint pain and stiffness. In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the immune system targets the synovial tissue that lines the joints. It's the most common type of inflammatory arthritis, striking 1.3 million Americans and counting. More than 75% of people with RA are women.
- 2. RA Can Come and Go—Or Stick Around for the Long HaulIt's one disease, but RA presents itself differently in different people. Some develop mild cases for a few months or years, then the disease disappears. Others have periods of symptoms called flares, with periods of remission in between. Still others have a severe form of RA that leaves them in constant pain and damages their joints. The good news: A better understanding of the disease in recent years has helped doctors refine treatments for all types.
- 3. Treatment Is a Personal MatterJust as RA symptoms differ from person to person, so does the best way to relieve them. Your doctor will work with you to find the best way to relieve pain, soothe inflammation, and prevent permanent joint damage. Lifestyle changes like diet and exercise can help, but most people need medications to control RA. Studies suggest that starting drug therapy early can help prevent tissue damage and preserve joint mobility.
- 4. New Medications Fight RA DifferentlySome prescriptions for RA relieve pain, while others reduce inflammation. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or DMARDS, such as methotrexate, work by slowing the course of the illness. Newer, promising drugs called biologic response modifiers are genetically engineered to protect joints. They interrupt the cascade of events that cause inflammation. Many different biologic drugs have now been approved to treat RA.
- 5. Surgery Helps Severe CasesSeveral types of surgical procedures can treat RA. Some repair damaged joints and tendons, while others replace them altogether. Like medications, newer developments make surgical procedures safer and more effective. For instance, joint replacements once required large incisions and a long recovery. Now, artificial joints may be implanted with minimally invasive procedures that help you get back to regular activities more quickly.
- 6. Easing Stress May Soothe Joints
- 7. RA May Place Your Bones at RiskPeople with RA are prone to bone loss, fractures, and the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. This may be because glucocorticoids, medications that treat RA, also thin bones. But bones near the affected joints are often weakest, suggesting that bone loss may occur as a direct result of RA. Eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D helps keep bones strong. Besides dairy, reach for dark green leafy vegetables, saltwater fish, and egg yolks.
- 8. Kicking the Habit HelpsTobacco use isn't just bad for your lungs. According to a new study in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, researchers report that 1/3 of the most severe cases of RA are linked to smoking. That's similar to cigarettes' connection to heart troubles. Since many people with RA die of heart disease, quitting makes twice as much sense. New online smoking cessation programs can make kicking the habit convenient and affordable.
- 9. RA Can Affect Your HeartJust like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, RA places you at risk for heart disease. That's most likely because inflammation from the joints spreads through the body, damaging the heart. In one recent study in the Journal of Internal Medicine, heart attack risk increased 60% among people who'd been diagnosed with RA one to four years prior. RA also can lead to pericarditis, an inflammation in the membrane surrounding the heart.
- 10. You Can Live an Active Life With RAKeeping joints in motion can help ease pain and protect you from related conditions like heart disease. It might be hard to get motivated—but for inspiration, try looking to Vancouver, Wash., resident Shelley Simpson, who speed-walks marathons despite severe RA. You don't have to go a whole 26.2 miles. Instead, aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day, most days of the week.
- 11. Try These Joint-Friendly ExercisesFocus on three types of moves. Low-impact aerobic activities such as swimming and brisk walking keep your heart healthy without jarring your joints. Muscle-strengthening moves, such as weight training, help take pressure off your joints. And balance exercises such as standing on one foot reduce your risk of falling. However, be sure to pair periods of activity with periods of rest. Consider taking it easy if your joints are visibly swollen or you're feeling fatigued.
11 Truths About RA