Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the joint cartilage. It is a systemic pathology, meaning it affects the entire body, and can lead to severe disability and irreversible loss of functionality if not managed properly. This blog post aims to provide advice, suggestions, and remedies often recommended for the management of arthritis. However, this information should not replace professional medical advice from healthcare specialists.

Causes and Risk Factors

Rheumatoid Arthritis is primarily characterized as an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. While the exact cause of RA is not fully understood, research has identified several factors that may contribute to its development:

  • Genetic Susceptibility: Genetics play a significant role in the risk of developing RA. The presence of specific genes, such as the HLA-DRB1 gene, can increase susceptibility to the disease. However, having these genes does not guarantee RA development, suggesting that environmental triggers also play a crucial role.
  • Smoking: Tobacco use has a strong association with RA, particularly in genetically susceptible individuals. Smoking may also worsen the disease’s progression.
  • Infections: Certain bacterial and viral infections are thought to trigger RA in people with an inherent genetic predisposition. The exact mechanisms are not clear but may involve the immune system responding abnormally following infection.
  • Exposure to harmful substances: Prolonged exposure to certain harmful substances can elevate the risk of developing RA.
  • Hormonal Influences: Hormones may also influence the risk of RA. The disease is more common in women than men, which suggests that hormonal factors may contribute to its development.
  • Age and Sex: The risk of developing RA increases with age, with most people being diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 60. Women are two to three times more likely to develop RA than men, which may be related to hormonal differences.
  • Obesity: Excessive body weight is a significant risk factor for RA. Adipose (fat) tissue produces proteins that can promote inflammation, potentially leading to the development or exacerbation of RA.

Symptoms of Arthritis

Early recognition of arthritis symptoms is crucial for timely diagnosis and management. Typical symptoms include:

  • Joint swelling and deformation: This is often one of the first signs of arthritis.
  • Pain: Affected joints may hurt during or after movement.
  • Redness and warmth: Joints may appear red and feel warm to the touch, indicating inflammation.
  • Stiffness: A common symptom, especially noted in the morning or after periods of inactivity.
  • Systemic symptoms: In more severe cases, symptoms may extend beyond the joints, including fever, unexplained weight loss, anemia, muscle wasting (hypotrophy), and inflammation of other body tissues such as the eyes, lungs, or heart.

Management Strategies

What to Do

Upon diagnosis, a conservative therapy plan is typically adopted, which may include:

  • Selecting suitable physical activities that do not cause pain.
  • Using assistive devices for household work or travel.
  • Engaging in physiotherapy to prevent muscular hypotonia and rigidity.
  • Following a prescribed pharmacological therapy.
  • Undergoing medical treatments with heat, ultrasound, and mud.
  • Opting for surgery, if necessary.

What NOT to Do

Avoid neglecting preventive measures, especially if you have a family history of arthritis. Don't ignore symptoms and ensure you consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. It's also important to avoid activities that cause pain or could worsen arthritis and to follow the prescribed drug therapy.

What to Eat

While there is no specific diet for treating arthritis, certain nutrients can help manage the condition:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish and certain plant oils, have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, as well as zinc and selenium, can help reduce inflammation.
  • Increasing your intake of vitamin D, found in fish, fish oil, and egg yolk, can be beneficial.
  • Consuming iron-rich foods can help combat anemia associated with arthritis.

What NOT to Eat

If you have arthritis and are overweight, it is advisable to reduce your calorie intake and eliminate junk food and alcohol from your diet.

Medical Treatments

Managing RA typically involves a combination of medical treatments that aim to reduce symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Here are some of the commonly employed medical treatments for rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Heat Therapy: Applying heat can help relieve pain and reduce muscle stiffness in affected joints. Heat therapy can be administered through heating pads, warm baths, or heat wraps, and is often used to ease discomfort before other therapeutic activities.
  • Tecartherapy: This form of therapy uses capacitive and resistive electric transfer (CRET) to stimulate cellular activity using heat produced by radiofrequency. Tecartherapy can enhance local blood circulation and promote healing and pain relief in the tissues surrounding affected joints.
  • Ultrasound Therapy: Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to treat deep tissue injuries by stimulating blood circulation and cell activity, which can help reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Corticosteroid Infiltrations: Injections of corticosteroids directly into the joints can significantly reduce inflammation and pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis. These are usually recommended when only a few joints are affected, and the relief can be rapid and substantial.
  • Surgery: In cases where joint damage is severe, surgery might be necessary to restore function or relieve pain. Common surgical procedures for RA include synovectomy, joint replacement, and tendon repair, which are considered when other treatments fail to provide adequate relief.
  • Physiotherapy: Regular physiotherapy is crucial for maintaining joint function and range of motion in RA patients. A physiotherapist can teach exercises which help strengthen the muscles around the joints, enhance mobility, and reduce the overall impact of RA on daily life.

Pharmacological Treatments

Effective management of RA often requires a comprehensive pharmacological approach aimed at reducing inflammation, managing pain, and slowing disease progression. The following categories of drugs are commonly utilized:

Disease-Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs are critical in the treatment of RA as they not only alleviate symptoms but also slow the progression of the disease. Methotrexate is the most commonly prescribed DMARD and works by modulating the immune system to halt the underlying processes that damage the joints and tissues. Other DMARDs include leflunomide and sulfasalazine.

Biologic Agents

Biologics are a newer class of DMARDs that target specific components of the immune system. They are typically prescribed for patients who do not respond adequately to traditional DMARDs. Biologics like etanercept, adalimumab, and infliximab work by blocking tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a potent inflammatory substance in the body.

Janus Kinase (JAK) Inhibitors

A newer category, JAK inhibitors like tofacitinib and baricitinib, block certain enzymes involved in the inflammatory process, offering an alternative for those who might not find relief with biologics.


Immunomodulators, such as azathioprine and cyclosporine, adjust the immune system’s activity to reduce inflammation and tissue damage in RA. They are sometimes used when patients cannot tolerate or do not respond to other treatments.


Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are powerful anti-inflammatory agents that can quickly reduce inflammation and pain. They are often used for short-term management of acute RA flare-ups. Due to their potential side effects, including osteoporosis, weight gain, and increased risk of infection, their usage is generally limited or carefully monitored.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs are among the first-line treatments for reducing the inflammation and pain associated with RA. Drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen help decrease inflammation and provide pain relief. However, long-term use of NSAIDs can lead to gastrointestinal issues, cardiovascular problems, and kidney damage.


Opioids are generally reserved for severe pain relief in RA patients and are used cautiously due to their high potential for dependency and side effects. They are typically prescribed only when other pain management strategies fail.


Preventive measures for arthritis include not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight, adopting a diet rich in vitamin D, practicing regular physical activity, maintaining good oral hygiene, and leading a less stressful lifestyle.

In conclusion, while arthritis is a chronic and potentially debilitating disease, it can be managed effectively with the right combination of lifestyle changes, diet, pharmacological treatments, and medical interventions. Always consult with healthcare professionals for personalized advice and treatment.

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The Wellyme Team

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