Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease, which means that your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake, causing inflammation (painful swelling) in the affected parts of the body.
RA mainly attacks the joints, usually many joints at once. RA commonly affects joints in the hands, wrists, and knees. In a joint with RA, the lining of the joint becomes inflamed, causing damage to joint tissue. This tissue damage can cause long-lasting or chronic pain, unsteadiness (lack of balance), and deformity (misshapenness).
RA can also affect other tissues throughout the body and cause problems in organs such as the lungs, heart, and eyes.
Signs and symptoms of RA
With RA, there are times when symptoms get worse, known as flares, and times when symptoms get better, known as remission.
Signs and symptoms of RA include:
- Pain or aching in more than one joint
- Stiffness in more than one joint
- Tenderness and swelling in more than one joint
- The same symptoms on both sides of the body (such as in both hands or both knees)
- Weight loss
- Fatigue or tiredness
RA is the result of an immune response in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells. The specific causes of RA are unknown, but some factors can increase the risk of developing the disease.
Risk Factors for RA
Characteristics that increase risk-
- Age. RA can begin at any age, but the likelihood increases with age. The onset of RA is highest among adults in their sixties.
- Sex. New cases of RA are typically two-to-three times higher in women than men.
- Genetics/inherited traits. People born with specific genes are more likely to develop RA. These genes, called HLA (human leukocyte antigen) class II genotypes, can also make your arthritis worse. The risk of RA may be highest when people with these genes are exposed to environmental factors like smoking or when a person is obese.
- Smoking. Multiple studies show that cigarette smoking increases a person’s risk of developing RA and can make the disease worse.
- History of live births. Women who have never given birth may be at greater risk of developing RA.
- Early Life Exposures. Some early life exposures may increase risk of developing RA in adulthood. For example, one study found that children whose mothers smoked had double the risk of developing RA as adults. Children of lower income parents are at increased risk of developing RA as adults.
- Obesity. Being obese can increase the risk of developing RA. Studies examining the role of obesity also found that the more overweight a person was, the higher his or her risk of developing RA became.
Diagnosis of RA
Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages because the early signs and symptoms mimic those of many other diseases. There is no one blood test or physical finding to confirm the diagnosis.
People with rheumatoid arthritis often have an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, also known as sed rate) or C-reactive protein (CRP) level, which may indicate the presence of an inflammatory process in the body. Other common blood tests look for rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies.
Your doctor may recommend X-rays to help track the progression of rheumatoid arthritis in your joints over time. MRI and ultrasound tests can help your doctor judge the severity of the disease in your body.
Complications of RA
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has many physical and social consequences and can lower quality of life. It can cause pain, disability, and premature death.
- Premature heart disease. People with RA are also at a higher risk for developing other chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. To prevent people with RA from developing heart disease, treatment of RA also focuses on reducing heart disease risk factors. For example, doctors will advise patients with RA to stop smoking and lose weight.
- Obesity People with RA who are obese have an increased risk of developing heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Being obese also increases risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Finally, people with RA who are obese experience fewer benefits from their medical treatment compared with those with RA who are not obese.
- Employment RA can make work difficult. Adults with RA are less likely to be employed than those who do not have RA. As the disease gets worse, many people with RA find they cannot do as much as they used to.
How Diet helps in RA
A change in diet is one way people with RA are choosing to support their health. Eating certain foods may help you manage your RA symptoms along with medical treatments like over-the-counter painkillers, anti-inflammatory medications, and immune-suppressing therapies. Here’s a quick guide of foods to eat, foods to avoid, and particular diets that may contribute to a healthy life with RA.
Foods to eat on an RA diet
Foods that may help with RA symptoms have anti-inflammatory properties. They reduce inflammation in the body. Specific components, nutrients, or elements give foods this effect.
Here’s a list of those elements and the foods you can eat to get more of them:
Antioxidants may improveTrusted Source RA disease activity. These are compounds that can destroy damaging elements like the over-production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in your body. They can also reduce inflammation.You can get more by looking for foods with vitamins A, C, or E, or selenium. Eat fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts, or drink green tea.
Fiber can aid in weight loss and may helpTrusted Source with gut bacteria that reduce inflammation. Get more fiber in your diet with more of the following:
1. Fresh fruits and vegetables
2. whole grains
Flavonoids are compounds made by plants. They make their way into our diets when we eat fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids can reduceTrusted Source inflammation in your body and help reduce your RA pain and swelling. Foods that are high in flavonoids include:
2. green tea
6. dark chocolate
Spices can reduceTrusted Source inflammation in your body. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin that has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s related to ginger, which may have a similar effect.
But curcumin doesn’t work as well without adding piperine, which is a substance found in black pepper. Add a pinch of black pepper when adding turmeric to reduce inflammation. Capsaicin, a compound found in chili peppers, also helps reduce inflammation in the body.
Foods to avoid with RA
While eating foods that reduce inflammation, you should also try to avoid foods that cause inflammation. These are called pro-inflammatory foods, and includeTrusted Source a number of common ingredients.
Here are some examples of foods that might triggerTrusted Source an inflammatory response:
- processed carbohydrates like white flour and white sugar
- saturated and trans fats, like those found in fried foods
- red and processed meats