Understanding Our Human Body – Rheumatoid Arthritis as an Autoimmune Disease
As an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis affects the body’s immune system and turns it against itself. In particular, rheumatoid arthritis triggers the immune system and has it attack the joints. This results in a thickening of the synovial fluid in the joints – and typically this affects both right and left sides of the body at once – which causes pain and inflammation. The inflammation can be problematic in and of itself as the swelling can get bad enough to cause restriction of movement, and the pain can be so intense one wouldn’t want to move anymore anyway.
Rheumatoid arthritis has further-reaching potential complications that merit attention as well. The inflammation it causes is drastic enough to affect vital organs and even one’s endocrine glands. As an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis tends to be medically addressed by drugs that suppress the immune system. With the drawbridge deliberately lowered like this, one’s susceptibility to infection increases drastically. Even beyond this, the medication and pain-limited physical activity can contribute to the gradual stripping of bone matter, which could lead to bone thinning and possible osteoporosis down the line.
Bones aren’t the only thing that can be slowly degrade over time with rheumatoid arthritis. Muscle wasting, or rheumatoid cachexia, is also a possibility. The medication typically prescribed for RA is so strong as to affect the body in indirect but nevertheless unpleasant, adverse ways. Even the lungs are not immune from this – potential scarring of the lungs is possible given the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on the immune system and the possible infection that can come from addressing it thusly. It is important, therefore, to keep an eye out in case this might be what is bothering you.
What should a person watch out for?
- First and foremost is joint pain, which is the default setting for any arthritic condition. RA isn’t picky and can affect any joint, but the common ones include the wrists, hands, ankles, knees and feet. This joint pain can last for up to or longer than six weeks. As noted, this pain tends to appear symmetrically, meaning on both sides of the body (only the right or left being affected may be due to a different ailment, or perhaps an injury).
- Tenderness and redness near inflamed joints is also an indicator. This can last for as long as the inflammation is there.
- Stiff joints in the morning. For some this can last for several hours after waking up.
- Finally, some people may experience a low-grade fever or a loss of appetite around the same time the pain starts being felt.
Given that the medication for RA tends to be powerful enough to cause a unique set of new problems – these tend to minimize the immune system or be so strong as to possibly cause liver issues – how can one minimize the impact of RA differently?
- Make some dietary changes. Embrace an “arthritis diet” of oily, omega-3 fatty acids-rich fish like tuna, salmon or mackerel, lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and avoid processed foods. The omega-3s will help your body fight off inflammation. Avoid inflammation-triggering foods like sugar, trans fats, and gluten.
- Stay active. While the pain might keep you from doing much, do what you can within that threshold. Low-impact activities that don’t stress the joints a lot will help keep your muscle mass together. This includes water aerobics, walking, and yoga.
- Control pain naturally. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication can do a good job of reducing the pain and swelling from many joint maladies, but these aren’t right for everyone – for some, these might slow the healing process. There are natural means to curb the impact of pain, such as using essential oils (ginger, myrrh, turmeric) or topical treatments that have capsaicin or salicylates.
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