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Autoimmunity

6 Tips for Successfully Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) diagnosis can bring many emotions and questions. In addition to feeling anxious or upset, you may be asking yourself, “how do I make the most out of living with RA?” 

Similar to other autoimmune diseases, RA often takes years to diagnose, meaning you could be managing your symptoms even before knowing you have RA. Whether or not you’re new to having a diagnosis, there are ways to successfully live with rheumatoid arthritis.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation to the lining of joints, which leads to joint damage and debilitating pain. The inflammation from RA may cause multiple health issues, from dry eyes to heart disease. People with RA experience unpredictable periods of flare-ups and remission.

6 Tips for Living Successfully With RA

Like many autoimmune conditions, inflammation is a key process at the center of rheumatoid arthritis. Fortunately, there are many ways that we can help reduce inflammation in our body, which can decrease our symptoms and lessen the long-term damage caused by the disease. Here are 5 tips for successfully living with RA:

1. Optimize Your Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment Plan

Both over-the-counter and prescription medication can play an important role in reducing inflammation. Medication can also slow the progression of RA. However, there are pros and cons to each medication, including potential side effects like fatigue. 

Working closely with your doctor is critical when managing RA. Your doctor will help find the most appropriate treatment for your health goals and stage of disease progression. Medical professionals can also explain the risks of any particular RA medication. 

Research shows that 77% of the activities of the immune system are dominated by factors like environment and lifestyle triggers. A comprehensive plan for RA treatment should also consider lifestyle modifications to improve quality of life. This approach also increases the likelihood of remission and can slow or stop joint damage. 

You should continue to monitor your symptoms once a treatment protocol has been started. Be sure to advocate for any adjustments to the plan that you feel you need. Remember, the correct early treatment can reduce inflammation and avoid further joint damage. 

2. Make Modifications to Manage RA Symptoms

It can be challenging to make modifications to daily activities when living with a chronic illness. RA’s impact on joints might lead to the need for accommodations at work or requesting extra support from friends and family. More simply, you may have to be selective in the type and amount of exercise you engage in. 

Even gentle physical activities have benefits. Yoga, tai chi, walking, or swimming can help with pain, flexibility, and mood. Yoga, in particular, has been shown to relieve RA and depression symptoms. However, finding the right level of movement is key in avoiding increases in inflammation.

Beyond physical modifications, it’s critical to be attentive to mental wellness. People with RA are at higher risk of depression. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, don’t hesitate to find support from a doctor, therapist, or support group. Care teams can also help you to navigate necessary modifications. 

3. Prioritize Sleep Quality and Quantity

Adults need 7 or more hours of sleep per night for optimal health and well-being. With fatigue as a common symptom of RA, an even greater amount of sleep could be necessary. Extra sleep ends up being even more important if the quality of your sleep is poor. 

Sleep is necessary for our bodies to rest, recover, and heal. Sleep deprivation is linked to many chronic health conditions. In fact, a study has found that fewer than seven hours of sleep was associated with increased odds of RA. Improving sleep quality and quantity can help combat RA symptoms, especially fatigue. 

4. Incorporate Stress Management Techniques

Stress takes a toll on the immune system and impacts sleep, digestion, and symptom severity. In fact, psychological stress is a risk factor for autoimmune disease. While stressful events may be unavoidable, there are stress management techniques available to lessen their impact. 

If stress is a trigger for your RA symptoms, consider working with a therapist or health coach. Care professionals may offer strategies like mindful breathing, gratitude practice, meditation, or mind-body techniques (like tapping/EFT).  

5. Recharge and Find Joy

Finding ways to reenergize (other than sleep) is an important part of living well, especially with a chronic condition like RA. Try making a list of activities that deplete your energy, and one of the activities that increase it.

From there, try to manage your schedule accordingly, making more time for what brings you joy. Life with RA might sometimes leave you feeling like you’re missing out on the fun. But, you can bring the good times back by incorporating more of the activities that make you happy.

You might have a running to-do list for life’s tasks. Consider, in addition, making a “joy list.” Commit to one fun activity from the joy list each day – even if it’s five minutes for a hot cup of coffee. 

6. Eat Mindfully

Diet impacts inflammation within the body. By emphasizing anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods and avoiding your unique dietary triggers, you can significantly reduce your body’s inflammation levels. Several dietary strategies have been linked to reducing inflammation and improving health outcomes in RA:

Fasting and intermittent fasting are also recognized as excellent ways to reduce inflammation and give your body recovery time from exposure to allergens and intolerances. 

Beyond these dietary approaches, certain foods are considered to be more inflammatory than others. As you work to identify your own personal triggers, consider avoiding some of the top inflammatory foods and incorporating more the anti-inflammatory foods:

Inflammatory Foods Anti-inflammatory Foods
Sugar (comes in foods and drinks in many forms such as glucose, sucrose, fructose, dextrose, and from corn, beet, and cane) Berries (blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, raspberries, and acai) 
Processed/packaged foods (contain some ingredients such as wheat, soy, corn, sugar, colors, dyes, and preservatives) Omega-3 rich foods and other healthy fats such as avocado, coconut, ghee, and cultured and pastured butter (these foods help curb cravings for processed foods)
Gluten (found in cereal, grains, wheat, couscous, rye, barley, Kamut, spelt, and farro)  Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, kale, cabbage, etc.) 
Dairy (especially products from cows such as cream, milk, cheese, and butter, and other milk solids) Bone or meat broths from sustainably raised or caught fish, chicken, bison, beef, or veal
Nightshades (includes potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, tobacco, peppers, fries, ketchup, and hot sauce)  Green vegetables and leafy greens (asparagus, artichoke, spinach, swiss chard, microgreens, etc.) 

 

Whichever dietary approach you choose, notice how it makes you feel. For some people, foods considered to be anti-inflammatory can actually be symptom triggers. Using a journal or the Mymee app can help to identify your personal food triggers. Between Mymee’s easy-to-use tracking app and the support of your personal health coach, you can accelerate your progress in identifying and removing your unique triggers.

 

 

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