What is it?
Rheumatoid (ROO-muh-toid) arthritis (arth-RI-tis) is also called "RA." Your body has a special system set up to help you attack and fight off illness. It is called your immune system. When you have RA, the system attacks your own body tissues. This causes pain, swelling, and stiffness of your joints. Later, joints may become a different shape (joint deformity) and you may lose movement. Joints are the places in your body where two bones meet. RA usually affects the joints of your hands, wrists, knees, ankles, and feet.
No one knows for sure what causes RA. Scientists have found that it may be caused by an infection (in- FECK-shun) in some people. If someone in your family has RA, you may be more likely to have it.
Signs and Symptoms:
Signs and symptoms of RA may be different for everyone. You may have signs and symptoms for a time and then they will get better. This is called "remission." After a remission, the signs and symptoms may start up again. RA is a life-long disease. At first, you may feel very tired, lose your appetite, and feel weak and achy. You may feel this way for weeks or months before the following signs and symptoms are seen. They may be first seen and felt in your hands, wrists, knees, ankles, and feet.
- Joint pain and inflammation (swelling).
- Joint redness and warmth.
- Joint stiffness, especially in the morning and after long periods of sitting. Stiffness will last over 1/2 hour.
With time, RA may damage your body tissue and cause bone to wear away. When this happens, you may have the following signs and symptoms:
- Bone fractures.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Firm, round growths on or around your joints. You may lose movement in your joints, making it hard to do activities that you used to do.
- Joint deformity. You may first see this in your hands ("swan neck deformity"). Your fingers may become bent or crooked and you will have trouble straightening them.
- Loss of feeling, tingling, and burning in your feet.
- Muscle wasting (decrease in size and strength).
- Skin, hair, and nails may become thin and dry.
Daily exercise, decreasing stress, and not smoking may help RA.
Caregivers will ask you many questions and then examine you. X-rays, blood tests, and screening tests for osteoporosis may also be done. Ibuprofen and aspirin may be used to treat your symptoms but these medicines do not prevent RA from getting worse. A group of medicines called disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) changes RA and keeps it from worsening. Sometimes DMARDs are used soon after caregivers learn that you have RA. Prednisone is another medicine that may be used to treat RA. It is one of the oldest DMARDs. But it has side effects that include weight gain, high blood pressure, and others. Surgery may be needed to remove or replace joints.
HOW TO TREAT YOUR SYMPTOMS:
If you have aggressive rheumatoid arthritis that is causing joint destruction, these strategies can be used in addition to the DMARDs, not in place of them. Using these strategies in either mild or aggressive cases of rheumatoid arthritis may reduce the need for more aggressive interventions and the associated risks.
Herbs and Supplements:
Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) may be helpful for RA and has been studied in people.
- Borage (Borago officinalis) oil is helpful for RA and has been studied in people.
- Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have RA.
- Capsaicin creams (Capsicum frutescens) from the cayenne pepper, applied to the skin over the affected area, can help pain. Initial applications are irritating but after the first couple of weeks, the irritation goes away. The hands should be washed after application of the cream unless the hands are the treated areas, in which case, they should be washed 30 minutes after application.
- Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) oil may be helpful for RA and has been studied in people.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have RA.
- Nettle (Urtica dioica) may be helpful for RA and has been studied in people.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have RA. You can also use turmeric liberally as a spice in your diet.
- Yucca (Yucca spp) may be helpful for RA and has been studied in people.
- Copper has been used, but has not been studied in people who have RA.
- Chondroitin sulfate has been used, but has not been studied in people who have RA.
- DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide) may be helpful, and has been studied in people who have RA.
- D-Phenylalanine has been used, but has not been studied in people who have RA.
- Fish oil (EPA and DHA) may be helpful for RA and has been studied in people.
- GLA (gamma linolenic acid) is helpful for RA and has been studied in people.
- Glucosamine sulfate has been used, but has not been studied in people who have RA.
- MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) has been used, but has not been studied in people who have RA.
- SAMe (S-Adenosylmethionine) has been used, but has not been studied in people who have RA.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin, niacinamide) has been used, but has not been studied in people.
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) may be helpful for RA and has been studied in people.
- Vitamin E may be helpful for RA and has been studied in people.
- Relaxation therapy helps RA.
- Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which includes acupuncture and herbs, may help RA.
- Massage therapy may help RA.
Other ways of treating your symptoms:
Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.
Talk to your caregiver if:
- You would like medicine to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
- Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
- You have questions about what you have read in this document.
You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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Last Updated: 1/4/2011