Rheumatoid arthritis is essentially an autoimmune disease which causes chronic inflammation in the joints. In these types of diseases, the immune system of the body mistakenly attacks the body tissues. Inflammation of tissues surrounding the joints & inflammatory arthritis are the characteristic symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Progression of this disease can lead to inflammation & injury in many other organs of the body. This is why it is referred to as a systemic illness or rheumatoid disease.
This is a chronic illness, that can last for a number of years and there might be phases when the patient might not experience any of its symptoms. But, rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive illness and can potentially lead to a significant amount of joint destruction as well as functional disability. It is often believed that arthritis affects only older adults, but this is not true. Sometimes even children below the age of 16 could be affected. If the patient is below the age of 16 years, he/she is said to be suffering from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
The inflammation of this rheumatoid disease can manifest in tissues around joints, and affects ligaments, muscles and tendons. The joint inflammation that is caused by rheumatoid arthritis results in arthritis symptoms such as:
- Prolonged Stiffness & redness in joints
- Difficulty in carrying out simple daily tasks (opening door knobs etc)
- Painful walking
Chronic inflammation can lead to damage in body tissues, including bone and cartilage. This results in erosion and loss of cartilage and ultimately weakens the bones and muscles. The joints get deformed and destroyed and the person loses function. In rare cases, this disease might affect the tone of the patient’s voice, as it affects the cricoarytenoid joint which controls the vocal cords.(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cricoarytenoid_muscle). In case of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis the symptoms might include crying, poor appetite, limping and irritability.
Currently there is no proven cure for RA. The primary goal of any rheumatoid arthritis treatment is reduction of joint inflammation & pain. In addition, the objective also is to maximize the patient’s joint function, prevent deformity and joint destruction. Early detection and timely medical intervention go a long way in improving outcomes. In most cases, aggressive management can significantly improve function and stop damage to the joints. RA treatment can be a combination of:
- Joint protection
- Joint strengthening exercises
- Patient & family education
The treatment will be customized based in individual factors such as the joints involved, severity of the disease, age, general health and the patient’s occupation.
Though there is no magic potion to cure rheumatoid arthritis, extensive studies have linked the condition to consumption of certain foods. Typically, the arthritis diet that your doctor prescribes will eliminate all the problem foods and incorporate some others.
The diet will be centred on various plant-based foods:
- Around 2/3 rd of the diet should come from fresh vegetables, fruits and food grains. Adding more fibre to your diet brings down the level of C-reactive protein in the blood. CRP indicates inflammation in joints. Fresh as well as frozen strawberries seem to be especially beneficial in bringing down CRP levels
- The remainder 1/3rd should come from sources of lean protein, low-fat/fat-free dairy products
- The diet should include fish like mackerel, trout or salmon as the Omega-3 fatty acids that the fish oil contains have very effective anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have proved that it can ease morning stiffness and relieve tender joints. In some cases, your doctor might recommend fish oil supplements
- Extra virgin oil might also help in reducing inflammation in the same manner that aspirin or ibuprofen does. This oil contains oleocanthal that blocks inflammation-causing enzymes
The Exercise Factor
In addition to the a regulated and well-balanced diet, a certain amount of exercise is crucial for maintaining mobility of the joints as well as for strengthening various muscles around the affected joints. Depending on the patient’s physical condition and severity of the disease, certain other exercises may be prescribed.
Occupational and physical therapists can provide specialized exercise instructions. It is also very important that all emotional stresses be minimized for the rheumatoid arthritis patient as this helps in improving his/her overall health. A doctor should be consulted before starting the patient on any treatment, diet or exercise routine.