Do your joints feel stiff, achy or swollen? Do you find it difficult to bend your elbows or knees? If your explanation is that you’ve been overdoing it at the gym lately, you may be right. However, in more dire cases, there might be something serious going on within your body.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic joint disorder that causes stiffness, pain, and swelling to certain joints. Early arthritis first affects your smaller joints such as your fingers, toes and wrist. As it progresses, it will start to affect other parts of your body such as your knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders. However, in severe cases, it may even affect our organs, such as the lungs, kidneys, eyes, blood vessels and the heart.
Causes of rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid Arthritis is classified as an autoimmune condition. This means that the body’s immune system will attack healthy body tissues. The trigger for this aggression is unknown and is still being medically researched. However, scientists believe that the three major risk factors that predispose you to Rheumatoid Arthritis are:
- Genetics: there is evidence that RA runs in families
- Hormones: women tend to suffer from RA more than men, likely due to the effects of the estrogen hormone
- Smoking: people who smoke have an increased risk of developing RA.
The best way to diagnose and treat Rheumatoid Arthritis
Medical professionals use biomarkers to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis and observe how well the body responds to therapy used to treat this disease.
The most common biomarkers used by healthcare professionals to diagnose and track Rheumatoid Arthritis are:
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
- C-Reactive protein (CRP)
- Rheumatoid Factor (RF)
- Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody (anti-CCP)
- Protein biomarker 14-3-3eta
The importance of tracking biomarkers of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Because of the heterogeneous nature of rheumatoid arthritis, effective treatment is very difficult. Early intervention can stop the progression of the disease. There is much evidence to support the much better outcomes for those people diagnosed earlier and treated during the earlier stages of the disease. Early stages of RA can present either with no symptoms, or quite non-specific symptoms and signs leading to delayed diagnosis. As a result, rheumatoid arthritis is often diagnosed once damage has already been done, which makes it impossible to perform any effective treatment.
Biomarkers will give the healthcare professionals a clear picture of your arthritis which will enable them to curate an effective treatment plan. They will also learn how to prevent this disease in other individuals before its onset. Early detection is key, as with many chronic diseases.
The signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
RA primarily affects the joints starting peripherally and working their way to central larger joints. Joints tend to be painful in the mornings with stiffness, redness, swelling. Other symptoms may be:
- Lack of energy
- Chest pain if the heart or lungs are affected
- Excessive sweating
- Weight loss
- No appetite
The ways to treat rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic joint disease without a cure. You may consume certain foods which help to alleviate the pain or symptoms brought on by RA. However, you should first consult your doctor before embarking on a strict diet.
One such food is fish or fish oil. This is as fish oil can help ease painful joints and morning stiffness. One study has shown that RA patients who consumed fish regularly were able to reduce their intake of conventional medicines. Make fish part of your daily diet. A serving (3.5 ounces) of fish will give you 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids.
You should increase your intake of natural fibers, vegetables, and whole grains.
Extra virgin olive oil has been shown to reduce inflammation as well (part of the so-called anti-inflammatory diet).
Other non-medicinal ways to treat RA are:
Exercise. Light workout can help toughen the muscles around your joints. It can also help fight fatigue due to the condition. In the beginning, try walking, swimming or gentle aerobics. Consult with your doctor before you take up exercising.
Apply heat or cold. Heat can alleviate your pain and relax painful, stiff muscles. Cold may lessen the pain sensation.
Plant oil. The seeds of certain plants such as borage, evening primrose, and black currant contain a form of fatty acid that may ease the pain and stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Tai Chi. Small studies have shown that tai chi may decrease pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
Stop smoking. As mentioned earlier, smoking is known to play a part in rheumatoid arthritis. If you are a smoker, you must stop smoking if you want to treat the symptoms of your disease.
Medications for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Medicines for rheumatoid arthritis are conventional painkillers such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Steroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and certain biologic agents are also prescribed for the treatment of RA.
When should you see a doctor?
You should see a doctor immediately if:
- You experience several rounds of joint symptoms in one month
- Pain, stiffness, or swelling in one or more joints
- The symptoms last 3 or more days
- Tender or stiff joints
- Joints that appear red or feel warm when touched
- You find it difficult to move a joint or perform daily activities
In conclusion, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. It is a painful and debilitating condition. Rheumatoid arthritis is normally diagnosed once damage has been done. Early diagnosis is crucial for the condition. Therefore, early biomarkers are vital for the prevention and early treatment of RA. Consuming healthful foods and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best way to prevent and manage this condition.
If you are suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis, register for Arthritis Foundation’s Walk to Cure Arthritis here.
If you’re interested in learning more about inflammatory biomarkers and how you can manage abnormal levels of rheumatoid biomarkers, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!