Updated: October 12, 2019
Self-management of RA can be possible by taking a proactive role in treatment and maintaining a good quality of life. The pain and disability caused by RA can have a considerable impact on quality of life the patient. As it restricts movements and mobility it can negatively impact your work, home, and social life. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect multiple joints of the body simultaneously and most commonly affected joints are those of the hands, wrists, and knees.
Here are some ways you can manage RA symptoms and promote overall health.
There is no specific diet for the treatment of RA. However certain foods that are rich in antioxidants can help control and reduce inflammation. Free radicals is a compound that is responsible for the development of RA. Our body produces these compounds naturally in response to stress. These are extremely reactive compounds found in body tissues and have the potential to damage different components of our tissues. Free radicals contribute to the development of a number of diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.
The negative effects of free radicals in our body can be reduced by antioxidants. When our body does not have enough antioxidants to counter the free radicals, it leads to various autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Some antioxidants are produced by our body while others we can get from our diet. Vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and selenium are some of the examples of antioxidants that we can get from our diet.
People with rheumatoid arthritis tend to have low levels of vitamin C. The fluid in the joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis has low concentrations of both vitamin C and E as compared to the joints of people without rheumatoid arthritis. The level of antioxidants in individuals who are at higher risk of developing RA or going to develop RA, are found to be low even before the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
Therefore it is considered that antioxidants may play in the development as well as the progression of rheumatoid arthritis.
Antioxidant supplements may benefit patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Supplementing with antioxidants can help relief from the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis as well increases antioxidant levels. Patients of rheumatoid arthritis who took antioxidants along with their standard treatment seems to experience better improvement in their symptoms. In addition to standard rheumatoid arthritis treatment, supplements containing vitamin C, vitamin A, and zinc can provide better control of disease development. Antioxidants comprising selenium, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E can increase the levels of antioxidants in the body. Therefore, these nutrients may be helpful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
Vitamin E is beneficial in relieving the pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, thereby complementing standard treatment for this condition. Patients supplemented with selenium are found to have lesser joint pain, swelling and morning stiffness. However, they also needed steroids and painkillers to manage rheumatoid arthritis as compared to those who did not take selenium supplements.
Mediterranean diet which plenty of plant foods like fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, nuts, and seeds, fish, and poultry are rich in antioxidants. Olive oil is the main source of fat in this diet. Dairy products and red meat are consumed in low to moderate amounts. Fresh seasonal and locally-grown foods are preferred.
Fruits and vegetables those are rich in antioxidants include:
Blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, citrus fruits & juices, broccoli, green peppers and brussels sprouts
Wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds
Milk, cheese, egg yolk, meat, liver, kidney, oily fish, and fish liver oil
Oranges, papaya, mangoes, tangerines, bell peppers, green leafy vegetables, corn, nectarine, and squash
Carrots, squash, pumpkin, apricots, spinach, and broccoli
Brazil nuts and sesame seeds
You can start with a regular intake of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidant supplements should only be taken in consultation with doctor.
Rest is equally important as physical activities when your disease is active. When RA is active and you feel pain, swelling or stiffness in joints, rest is a must. Resting sore joints decreases stress on the joints, and relieves pain and swelling. Patients are asked to simply decrease the intensity and/or frequency of the activities that consistently cause joint pain. Rest helps reduce inflammation and fatigue that can come with a flare. Taking breaks throughout the day conserves energy and protects joints.
Although people with Rheumatoid arthritis sometimes may experience short-term increases in pain when first beginning exercise, continued physical activity can be an effective way to reduce symptoms in long-term. The exercise program should emphasize low-impact aerobics, muscle strengthening and flexibility. You can choose the type of exercise by taking into account any joint damage that exists and considering your fitness level and capabilities.
As many people with Rheumatoid arthritis have another condition, such as heart disease, it is important to choose a joint-friendly physical activity such as walking, swimming or cycling. To live a healthy lifestyle and have a better quality of life you can take advise from a health care professional.
Heat treatments, such as heat pads or warm baths, tend to work best for soothing stiff joints and tired muscles. Cold is best for acute pain as it can numb painful areas and reduce inflammation. As water supports weight and puts less pressure on the muscles and joints, exercises in a warm-water pool is recommended.
These treatments could be creams or patches which are applied directly to the skin over the painful muscle or joint. It may contain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as salicylates or capsaicin, which help reduce pain.
Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, guided imagery and visualization can help painful muscles to relax. Massage can help reduce arthritis pain, improve joint function and ease stress and anxiety. Acupuncture may also be helpful which is a method of inserting fine needles into the body in special points called meridians to relieve pain. You can also consider acupressure, which involves applying pressure, instead of needles, at those points.
Turmeric and omega-3 fish oil supplements may help with rheumatoid arthritis pain and morning stiffness. But these can be considered after speaking to a doctor first.