Medical Blog

Rheumatoid Arthritis: A difficult journey

by md therapeutics on May 20, 2014

I’m sure it wasn't easy when you learned from your doctor that you have rheumatoid arthritis. According to conventional medicine, the exact cause is not known and there is no known cure despite decades of research. The “break-out” is unpredictable and when it flares up; the symptoms are severe enough to interfere with your work, personal life and the overall quality of your life. In addition, rheumatoid arthritis affects more than just the joints; it affects major organs such as heart, lungs, eyes and kidneys. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help better manage this condition.

Learn the “Warning Signs” 

If you are aware of the warning signs of a flare up, you can be prepared and better manage (physically and emotionally) the flare up. When you feel the warning signs, you should take some rest, use hot or cold pads (whichever makes you feel better), and take some medications to decrease inflammation and pain. It may be a good idea to take a few days off from work as well.  One of the typical warning signs is a very intense pain (to the point of wanting to die). Other signs are non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, feeling ill (flu-like symptoms), depressed mood (you may not want to socialize and have the desire to being alone). 

Avoid the Triggers 

Certain triggers are known to increase the chance of a new flare up. One such trigger is stress. Stress increases cortisol levels and promotes inflammation, leading to a flare-up. Breathing techniques, meditation or yoga can help decrease your stress level.

Infections also cause inflammation. A simple cold or flu can trigger a flare up. Conventional drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis suppress the immune system, and therefore makes you more vulnerable to infection. Consider turmeric or ginger as these natural supplements have the ability to fight infections.  Certain foods are also associated with flare ups. Keep a food diary and keep track if your symptoms worsen after a certain meal. If your symptoms do get worse, you may have a food allergy (consider eliminating gluten from your diet as many people with autoimmune diseases may be sensitive to the protein gluten). Avoid the potential “trigger” foods for a few months and notice if there is any improvement.

Avoid fatigue. If you work long hours, you may experience a flare up because over-exertion triggers inflammation. Make sure you get enough rest and take a nap (20-30 minutes) when you feel extremely tired.

Reduce Inflammation 

Remember, rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory arthritis. Most symptoms worsen because there is a significant degree of inflammation. You can reduce inflammation in your joints and the entire body by decreasing the stress levels and eating an anti-inflammatory type diet. Try avoiding processed foods, alcohol and coffee while eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Also consider having fish, white lean meats, beans, nuts and seeds. You can also take supplements with anti-inflammatory properties such as ginger and turmeric as mentioned above, and stay as active as you can. 

Contributing Adviser:

Dr Brenda, MD, HD (Nutrition),
Medical author, Assistant Microbiology Professor