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Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of several joints in the body. As a consequence, pain, stiffness, and swelling of the joints are some of the symptoms related to this clinical picture.
There are many medications for rheumatoid arthritis , but painful attacks can still be recurrent. The good news is that there are many things you can do to reduce, and even prevent, pain.
What is an autoimmune disease?
In autoimmune disease, the individual’s immune system, responsible for protecting against bacteria, viruses and fungi, for example, reacts to biochemical substances produced by the body itself. This is because it does not identify them as members of it.
In other words, there is a failure in the recognition between chemical molecules and, therefore, the consequence is an attack, promoted by immune cells and proteins, to endogenous products as if they were external aggressors.
The result is an inflammatory process, the consequences of which are: pain , redness, fever and swelling.
To exemplify, we can mention other autoimmune pathologies currently known:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus;
- Multiple sclerosis;
- Type 1 diabetes;
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis;
- Graves’ disease.
In many cases, the symptoms of some of these diseases may be similar and, therefore, it is up to the doctor to perform a clinical examination associated with laboratory tests that efficiently determine what the patient’s illness is.
In the specific case of rheumatoid arthritis, the connective tissues that cover the joints or organs, also called synovial membranes, are affected throughout the process. And over time, joints, bones and organs are damaged.
As affected joints we mention: wrists, elbows , shoulders , knees , ankles, hips , spine, etc. Among the organs that can be harmed with the progress of the disease we indicate: lungs, heart and kidneys.
So it is important to be aware of what this autoimmune disease is and how to treat it to reduce a number of associated risks.
Rheumatoid arthritis and its causes
The causes differ from those related to common arthritis or osteoarthritis . Even the reasons that promote it are not fully known.
What has already been identified, through a variety of scientific studies on the subject, is that there are some risk factors. Are they:
- genetic predisposition;
- hormonal imbalances;
- be female.
Regarding the last factor, it is known that rheumatoid arthritis affects three times more women than men.
In addition, infectious clinical conditions caused by viruses or bacteria can predispose to the onset of the pathology. Some examples of these situations are sore throats, viruses or urinary infections.
And there is also a relationship between the disease and environmental factors such as frequent contact with the silica substance.
It is also important to note that it is not contagious.
Who suffers from this disease?
Rheumatoid arthritis can affect anyone from childhood. However, it is more easily found in individuals over 40 years old.
In order to distinguish the period in which the disease appears in the patient’s life, the nomenclature is different for cases that occur with children and adolescents up to 16 years of age. In this situation, it is called Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Another important fact is that women are more likely to develop the condition when compared to men. Typically, the rate is three times higher in females.
Regarding the estimate of people affected by this autoimmune disease, in Brazil specifically, there are already more than one million individuals who suffer from the symptoms and consequences of living with the pathology.
What are the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
For proper recognition of the condition, the doctor should not diagnose rheumatoid arthritis until the patient has had symptoms for at least 6 weeks.
This is because the characteristics associated with this pathology are also recurrent in conditions such as viral infection or other autoimmune diseases that trigger inflammation of joints.
Therefore, when the patient arrives at the office, the professional performs a clinical examination composed of some questions and the tactile and visual analysis of the joints.
The following are the symptoms that are usually present in most cases of rheumatoid arthritis:
- swelling of three or more joints, on both sides of the body;
- pain and swelling in the joints of the fingers, wrists, ankles, and knees;
- morning stiffness, lasting more than half an hour every day;
- nodules under the skin;
- reduced appetite;
- weight loss;
- low fever.
We emphasize that in a first crisis, symptoms such as tiredness and / or similar to those of flu-like states can occur. Thus, the disease ends up not being initially associated with its real diagnosis.
And it is worth mentioning that at the beginning, the joints most commonly affected are the smallest ones, located on the hands and feet, for example. Only with the progression of the clinical picture can there be an advance for larger joints.
From this moment on, with its advancement, rheumatoid arthritis can be called “wear arthritis”, as it frequently affects joints such as the hips, knees and spine.
All of these support heavy weights and that is why joint damage is greater than in the hands, wrists, ankles, fingers, shoulders, elbows, knees, among others.
In fact, the disease becomes more common and more severe as the patient ages or when he is considerably overweight .
In addition, it is important to understand that the pictures associated with it tend to be irregular. That is, they are composed of phases of acute crises, in which most symptoms are present, and phases of relative remission, with the relief of pain.
During crises, the characteristics of rheumatoid arthritis are easily perceived and compromise the patient’s well-being.
In general, with the evolution of the disease, the individual constantly presents other areas of the body affected, because his immune system attacks them as well. As examples we mention the eyes, the arteries, the lungs and the skin.
And the main consequence identified with the advancement of the condition is the alteration of the joints, which acquire deformities and lose a large part of mobility, which can even reach immobility.
Therefore, in order to prevent progression and reduce the person’s quality of life, the sooner the correct diagnosis is made, the better the chance of living with the situation.
What tests will the doctor order?
In addition to the clinical examination performed in the office by the doctor himself, some laboratory blood tests and imaging will be required.
Among the former, the presence of antibodies characteristic of this autoimmune disease is identified, as well as the level of inflammation at the time of testing.
The specific antibody detected is the protein called Rheumatoid Factor. But if it is not in the blood sample, the possibility of the disease should not be excluded.
Therefore, even in the blood test, analyzes are performed to define the levels of C-reactive protein and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). These two results enable the perception of the inflammatory process in the individual’s body.
Other tests required and useful for diagnosis are x-rays, MRI and ultrasound of the joints that are already compromised.
Anyway, from all these data, the identification of rheumatoid arthritis is successfully obtained and it is possible to establish the ideal treatment for the patient.
What are the treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
There are several actions associated with the treatment of the disease and they vary according to the severity of the case and the intensity of the symptoms.
The factors that are taken into account when establishing the procedures are:
- what are the affected joints;
- the level of swelling;
- the intensity of the pain.
Among the treatment modalities you can choose: daily physical exercises, use of medications and surgery. This is recommended only for cases where the condition has already progressed excessively and there is a need for more invasive intervention.
It is worth mentioning that the objectives of the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis are:
- relieve pain;
- reduce joint inflammation;
- provide the support needed to maintain mobility;
- decrease the damage of the compromised areas;
- promote remission of symptoms;
- preserve the functional capacity of the body;
- prevent the progression of the clinical picture;
- maintain the patient’s quality of life and well-being.
Best Techniques of relieve the pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Here are the 10 techniques which helps to relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
Protect Your Joints:
The main thing that Reininger teaches patients to do is to protect their joints , even if they are currently free of symptoms.
You should always be thinking about your joints , even when doing small tasks, she says.
Instead of lifting a heavy pan, slide it over the counter; use a shoulder to open a door instead of your hand; and hold the books in the palm of your hands, not with your fingers.
One of the main guidelines for patients with rheumatoid arthritis is the daily practice of exercises that stimulate joint mobility, promote the correction of the affected area and prevent a worsening of the clinical picture.
In general, they are stretching and muscle strengthening practices with low impact on the joints. They must be initiated with caution and, as the patient adapts, the intensity and frequency of movements is increased.
And yet, strategies are indicated for performing daily tasks adapted to the individual’s difficulties. An example is the use of another part of the body to hold household items, so that the affected joint is not required.
The professionals involved in the treatment of this disease and responsible for the guidelines are doctors, physiotherapists, physical educators and occupational therapists.
Assuming you are pain-free, Reininger says you should try to stretch all of your joints every day, if that doesn’t cause you pain.
A physical therapist or other doctor can help adapt a stretching program to your needs.
People with rheumatoid arthritis tend to feel more resilient in the morning than at other times of the day, so taking a shower to warm up your joints, and then stretching can help you loosen up more for the rest of the day, Reininger advises.
Take a rest
Getting enough rest is important.
Taking a break can help to relax the mind, relieve joint pain , and help reduce the fatigue that is often associated with the disease.
So, how much do you need? “Rest is personal, it depends on a person’s tolerance,” says Reininger. However, avoid excessive rest. A sedentary lifestyle can be harmful, as long as you combine periods of rest with activity.
Take a hot shower or bath
The moist heat provides relief from the pain of rheumatoid arthritis , according to Reininger.
She recommends taking a hot bath, shower or soaking your hands in warm water.
In addition, moist heating pads, available at most pharmacies, can be applied for 10 to 15 minutes at a time to provide temporary pain relief .
Try hot wax
If you have pain in the joints of your hands and feet, a hot wax bath can relieve inflammation. (This is a classic technique used for sports-related injuries)
Reininger says this can work better than a heating pad, because, just like immersing yourself in a hot water bath, the heat acts completely around the fingers.
These hot wax baths, which Reininger comments that some patients prefer, can be found in online stores or pharmacies.
Use a cane
Many people think that using a cane means a disability, but if it can help reduce joint pain, who cares?
Walking sticks are easy to find and use and can decrease up to 20% of your body weight from your legs, hips and ankles, helping to prevent painful bouts of rheumatoid arthritis.
Be above the weight may cause excessive stress and affect the weight – bearing joints such as the knees, back and hips, says Reininger.
Studies have shown that adipose tissue can produce chemicals that can increase inflammation, so patients with rheumatoid arthritis should avoid becoming overweight.
Use special tools
Certain types of equipment can help make daily tasks less painful. Pens, knives, can openers, zippers and additional products are available to help protect joints, says Reininger.
The good news about purchasing such equipment is that you don’t always have to look in specialist stores.
Many tools are designed simply to make your life easier in the kitchen, such as tools with large, ergonomic handles, can openers, and a sliding drawer.
It is difficult to say when a crisis may occur, causing your joints to become stiff and swollen, or when you are going to overdo the exercise.
That’s because you can’t predict these events, so it’s a good idea to be prepared and anticipate problems before they arise. Reininger says you must be sure you can finish any activity before you start.
Divide tasks into parts – plant a garden on one day and another on another day instead of doing it all at once. And regarding the exercises, it is not necessary to do 30 minutes at once, try to divide it into three 10-minute sessions throughout the day.
And how is the diagnosis made?
Anyway, when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other autoimmune diseases, it is essential that the diagnosis is made early, after all, it is the best way to manage to live with the pathology, which is chronic and has no cure.
The perception of the main symptoms should be a reason for attention and in case of persistence of them for a minimum period of six weeks, it is necessary to resort to medical support.
Only from the clinical examination, in association with laboratory tests, is it possible to be sure of the presence of the pathology, the level of the clinical condition and to know how to act to minimize the damage.
In addition, we reinforce that in view of the discovery at the beginning of the disease, well-being and quality of life are maintained. It is enough for the patient to follow simple guidelines from qualified health professionals to provide them.
Finally, we remember that for having a lower risk of developing the disease, it is ideal: maintaining healthy eating habits, exercising, sleeping well, controlling weight and not smoking.