If you or a loved one suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, you know how severe the symptoms can be. This autoimmune disorder is highly painful, which can impact your quality of life. Although individuals can be affected at any age, rheumatoid arthritis typically begins after the age of 40.
Approximately 300,000 Canadians currently suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, affecting women three time more often than men. Considering arthritis is the leading cause of disability in Canada, it’s crucial that individuals know how to manage their symptoms.
Although there isn’t a cure, if you are diagnosed early and begin the right treatment, you can avoid severe damage. If you currently have rheumatoid arthritis, you can most certainly live a productive and active life. Before we discuss ways to manage this disease, let’s focus on what this disease is, so that you can identify early warning signs.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Before you can take control of this disease, you need to first understand what’s actually occurring. When you suffer from arthritis, you’re experiencing inflammation in your joints. This inflammation causes swelling, pain and stiffness.
There’s actually over 100 types of arthritis (affecting more than 4 million Canadians total). Rheumatoid arthritis is actually an autoimmune disease, where one’s immune system begins attacking the body. More specifically, this type of arthritis generally attacks the lining of the individual’s joints, which can be extremely painful and even dangerous.
What Are the Warning Signs?
Symptoms vary from person to person, however rheumatoid arthritis tends to surface over a matter of weeks to months. As time progresses, more joints tend to become affected. If you begin experiencing the following symptoms for more than two weeks, please go visit your doctor:
• You begin experiencing pain or stiffness. Swelling typically shows around the toes, fingers, feet and wrists.
• Experiencing stiffness when you first awake, which lasts up to an hour.
• Some experience greater fatigue and even weight-loss.
When you catch these early warning signs, you can significantly reduce joint damage. Once damage does occur, it’s not reversible. This is why it’s crucial to catch symptoms early, so that you can improve the outcome long-term.
4 Ways to Manage Your Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, there are ways to effectively manage your symptoms. You can most certainly reduce your level of pain, while improving movement. Here are four effective ways to reduce the severity of your symptoms, so that you can improve your quality of life:
1. Physical Activity
When you regularly exercise, you begin to strengthen the muscles which surround your joints. You should implement an exercise program into your schedule, so that you can reduce fatigue and pain, while improving mobility and even your mood.
You should perform range of motion and stretching exercises daily. These will continually reduce stiffness and pain in your joints. Strengthening exercises should also be included, as these will boost muscle tone and protect your joints.
Since arthritis can actually affect the joints in your organs, endurance exercises are important to strengthen your heart. Some great example are cycling, walking and swimming. Due to your condition, try and avoid exercises that are high-impact activities, such as jogging or kickboxing.
2. Treating Your Joints with Temperature
You can reduce your symptoms through both hot and cold temperatures. To further reduce pain and stiffness, use heat. Warm packs or a warm shower can yield positive results. If you’re using a warm pack, make sure you use some form of protective barrier between the warm pack and your skin (a towel works great).
When you apply heat, you can reduce pain, relieve muscle tightness and improve your range of motion. With that being said, do not apply heat to an already inflamed joint. This can make symptoms worse. In order to further reduce swelling and pain, you can use colder temperatures to constrict blood flow to an inflamed joint. Something as simple as a frozen bag of peas can do wonders. Once again, use a protective barrier to protect your skin.
3. Healthy Eating
Choosing healthy diet choices is essential when you have arthritis or any other health condition. When you’re overweight, you place an extra burden on your joints. Once you focus on a balanced diet, you can maintain a healthy weight, while providing your body with the nutrients it needs to properly function.
When it comes to inflammation, there are foods that have proven to help symptoms. Ginger is a classic example, as it provides compounds which work like anti-inflammatory drugs. It’s important to note that ginger can cause your blood to thin. If you’re currently on blood thinners, discuss this with your doctor. A few other examples include:
• Sour cherries, as they are rich in antioxidants.
• Green tea helps relax and calm you, while providing beneficial antioxidants
• Turmeric, which contains curcumin, reducing inflammation at the cellular level
• Fish, as the omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammation
4. Reduce Stress Levels
Stress and arthritis create a vicious cycle. Although this connection is not fully understood, it’s well-known that stress makes symptoms worse. Meditation and relaxation are both effective techniques, helping you escape from stressful situations. If you are currently suffering from chronic pain, this can lead to feelings of depression. It’s essential to gain support through a mental health professional, so that you can improve your overall quality of life.
Arthritis can be painful and tough to live with, however you CAN implement a positive approach. Making small lifestyle changes can truly improve your symptoms, so commit to some of the above strategies today. For further information and support, contact The Arthritis Society.
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