Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of chronic arthritis. This arthritis occurs on both sides of the body- both hands, both knees, both wrists.
The fact that the pain is symmetrical distinguishes this condition from other forms of arthritis. Additionally, rheumatoid arthritis can affect the heart, nerves, blood, eyes, skin, or lungs.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
You should know that RA, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, affects everyone in different ways. In some cases, the symptoms could develop over time.
However, in others, it could develop quickly. Still, in others, the symptoms of RA could be present for a short time and then they could go into what is called remission where they experience no symptoms.
Symptoms include: stiffness- especially upon waking or after sitting for a long period of time, joint swelling and pain, and fatigue.
Who is Affected by RA?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease- meaning your body’s immune system attacks itself. It is said that around one percent of Americans are affected by this disorder.
It is about three times more common in women than men. However, those men who are affected by it tend to have much more severe symptoms. Typically, it occurs sometime around middle age- but young children and the elderly can also be affected by it.
Causes of RA
The exact cause of this disorder is not known, however it is thought that it is a result of a combination of factors including: hormonal, genetic, and environmental.
When it comes to RA, it seems that something triggers the immune system to attack the joints and even other organs in the body.
Some theories say that a virus or bacteria could cause the immune system to be altered, which causes the immune system to attack the body. Others say that smoking could cause RA.
Though it is said that genetics does play a role, it hasn’t been established what that role is. However, some researchers have found that some have an inherited or genetic factor that increases the possibility of developing this debilitating disorder.
How RA Affects the Body
Once the immune system has been triggered, the cells migrate from the blood into the joints and the synovium- the tissue lining the joints.
Once there, the immune systems create an inflammatory substance that results in irritation, wearing down the cartilage- or cushion at the end of the bones, and ultimately swelling and inflammation of the lining of the joints.
As the cartilage begins to wear down, this results in the space between the bones becoming narrower, and as it worsens, the bones end up rubbing against each other.
The inflammation of the lining of the joints results in fluid buildup in the joints- which causes the lining to expand. As the joint lining expands, damage to the bone could result. All of these factors result in very painful, swollen, and inflamed joints.
In order to diagnose RA, your physician will look at a variety of factors, including: joint stiffness upon waking, the location and symmetry of pain in the joints, x-rays, blood tests, and bumps/nodules under the skin- known as rheumatoid nodules.
Natural Treatments for RA
At this point, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. The medications that are used to control the symptoms have some negative side effects from minor nausea to more severe side effects such as anemia and even liver damage.
Knowing all of this, you may wonder if there are alternative treatments available. Yes- there are several natural treatments available.
However, these are not made to take the place of conventional medicine, but they are made to use in conjunction with conventional medicines to help reduce frequency and dosage to where the side effects don’t cause problems.
Following are some of the most effective natural ways to alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Of course, you probably already know that there are lots of natural anti-inflammatories available. However, by far, the best ones are omega-3 fatty acids. You can find these brain-boosting, heart-healthy fats in seafood such as sardines, tuna, and salmon.
Studies have proven that adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet can actually reduce the occurrence of morning stiffness and joint pain in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. If you’re not the biggest fan of fish, you can take fish oil capsules and reap the same benefits.
However, you should consult with your physician to find the right dosage because high omega-3 concentrations can thin your blood.
GLA, or Gamma Linolenic Acid is another fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory properties. This particular substance is usually found in botanical oils, such as borage oil, black currant seed, and evening primrose.
Individuals in one study took three 1,000 milliliter capsules of borage oil every day over a six month time period.
At the end of the six months, they reported that they experienced less pain and stiffness in their joints than those who took the same dosage of the placebo.
An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Studies have shown that what you eat really does affect your body’s inflammatory response. Some foods, especially processed ones, actually promote inflammation, while natural ones tend to have the opposite effect.
Another aspect of an anti-inflammatory diet is making sure you don’t eat too much. When you over eat, that promotes weight gain and fat cells actually release a chemical that can cause your RA to become worse.
For years, both hot springs and spas have been proven to ease the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. However, you don’t have to travel to get this same healing effect.
You can also soak in a hot bath or a Jacuzzi, or even take a hot shower to relieve the aching of your joints, relax the tension in your muscles, and even ease the stiffness.
Find a temperature that is comfortable for you- you may need it really hot or just mildly warm.
Soak for about 15 minutes. Additionally, exercising in warm water- whether in a water aerobics class or swimming.
Pain and swelling could also be eased by cold- wrap a towel around a bag of frozen veggies or ice and hold it on your joints for around 10 minutes.
If swelling and pain exists for more than a few hours in one joint, it could be an indication of an infection- seek medical attention.
As you see, there are many natural treatments you can use for your RA- this list is definitely not all inclusive. Find something that works for you and maybe you can at least reduce your dosage of medications.