4 Medical And Non-Medical Treatments For Rheumatoid Arthritis

Posted on: 7 April 2015

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints in a symmetrical pattern, but can affect organs, such as the heart, lungs and eyes. The complex nature of RA can make finding the right treatment difficult. Managing symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, requires suppression of the immune system to minimize disease activity and finding ways to reduce flares.

Prescription And OTC Medications

When treatments are successful in slowing the progression of the disease, many people with RA have already suffered joint damage or deformities that cause pain and can contribute to difficulties performing routine tasks. In most cases, treatment includes pain relievers that may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and prescription analgesics to manage daily pain.

Corticosteroids and COX-2 inhibitors are other medications that can have anti-inflammatory effects and may reduce pain. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologics are classes of medications used in an attempt to control the underlying disease process by suppressing parts of the immune system linked with inflammation.

Non-Medication Pain Relief

Many people with RA utilize non-medication methods in conjunction with standard treatments to reduce inflammation and manage pain. Heat therapy and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units are non-medication approaches that can help you with joint stiffness and breakthrough pain. Heat therapy can take the form of electric heating pads or the use of pain-relieving wraps and creams that contain capsaicin, which is a chemical naturally found in peppers. TENS units are available over-the-counter and use electrical pulses to help block the conduction of pain signals along the nerves.

Diet And Exercise

No matter how healthy your diet and exercise program, it will not cure RA, but it can make the disease more manageable. When you are considering modifying your diet, keep a record of what you are eating and make any notes regarding changes in your symptoms. Some people find that certain foods make their symptoms worse. If you live a sedentary lifestyle due to pain or joint damage, you may need to focus more on your diet for weight management and overall health.

Focus on lean proteins to minimize muscle atrophy that can occur due to the underlying disease process and being sedentary. If you experience difficulties doing daily activities or have mobility problems, significant loss of lean body mass will only make routine activities harder. Focusing on your dietary habits can also combat some of the weight gain associated with long-term corticosteroid treatment.

Developing an exercise program when you have RA can be difficult, or impossible in some cases. Allow your body to dictate what, if any, types of exercises you can perform, and for how long. If you are currently experiencing a flare in any joint, you can cause more harm if you try to use that joint for exercise. Even if your RA is currently well controlled, you should stop any exercise that causes pain. You need to be mindful of how you feel in the following days after exercise. Some people with RA will require an extensive recovery period, even after routine activities, such as shopping or doing household chores.

Dietary Supplements

Incorporating natural or supplemental forms of Omega-3s may have a systemic anti-inflammatory effect. The benefits of reducing inflammation extend beyond reducing pain. RA increases your long-term risk of cardiovascular disease, most likely due to chronic inflammation throughout the body. Anti-inflammatory nutrients can have heart-healthy benefits for people with RA.

When you are considering various supplements as adjunctive treatment, you should speak with your doctor to make sure the supplements will not interfere with your current treatment. You should stay away from any supplement that is designed to boost your immune system. In RA and most rheumatic diseases, the immune system is already overactive.

There are various medical and non-medical treatments used to manage the symptoms of RA. Although managing your symptoms can be difficult, staying optimistic and trying combinations of rheumatology treatments can reduce pain and increase mobility.