Arthritis and Rheumatism are often heard of together. But how are they related, or are they even related? Are they the same thing? The purpose of this article, About Arthritis and Rheumatism, is to answer these questions; to learn about arthritis and rheumatism-how they are related, the symptoms, the causes, and treatment.
This article is for information purposes only and should not be used as an alternative to medical advice or seeing your doctor.
What Is Arthritis?
We can think of arthritis, more or less, as an umbrella term. Different types of arthritis fall under this umbrella into their own categories. A surprising fact to me was to find out there are over 100 different types of arthritis. Two that you may have heard of are osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, often referred to as inflammatory arthritis.
Arthritis occurs when the body experiences inflammation in one or more of the joints. This inflamation causes pain, stiffness and also can limit the range of motion. All these symptoms can worsen as part of the aging process.
Arthritis doesn’t discriminate and can affect men and women, children, all races, all ages. According to one study, more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have arthritis. It is found more often in women and is seen more often as we age.
The pain that is experienced can range from mild to chronic and may subside only to come back.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an inflammatory disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue, including that of the joints. Rheumatoid Arthritis is a progressive disease, and over time can lead to bone erosion and joint deformity. It can also damage internal organs, eyes, lungs, heart, and other body parts.
When a joint is afflicted with Rheumatism, it usually appears symmetrically on both sides of the body. For instance, if a joint in the hand has rheumatism, it is likely that the other hand will as well.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you have the following symptoms, they may be due to Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA):
- Tender, warm, swollen joints
- Joint stiffness – many people find that it is usually worse after inactivity and in the morning.
- Loss of appetite
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
It is thought that Rheumatism is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors, as was studied by Smolen, J. S., Aletaha, D., and McInnes, I. B at the University of Glasgow in 2016.
A family history of rheumatoid arthritis increases the chance of experiencing it 3-5 times more than someone who does not have that genetic history.
Environmental factors, such as smoking, show an increase of rheumatoid arthritis in Caucasians, 3 times that of non-smokers. Though not fully understood, it is thought that exposure to asbestos or silica can increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis usually begins with describing your symptoms to your doctor. It can be challenging to diagnose in the early stages because your symptoms may mimic those of other diseases such as lupus or fibromyalgia.
At your appointment, your doctor will probably ask you some questions such as: when did you first start to experience your symptoms; do your symptoms usually appear after you have been active or after rest; rating the level of pain – mild, severe, chronic; do the symptoms come and go or are they constant; and what have you tried to alleviate the pain.
Your doctor will more than likely perform a visual exam of the joints, causing the pain. He will feel for warmth, swelling, any redness that may be present.
To further his/her evaluation, you might be sent for blood work to check for levels of inflammation.
Orders may be made for imaging such as x-ray to see if there are signs of osteopenia, swelling of the soft tissue, and a decrease in joint space. An MRI or ultrasound may also be administered to track the progression and to see the current severity of the disease.
Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Unfortunately, at this time, there is no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis. There are, however, some treatments that can help manage, slow down the progression, and lessen the pain.
Because of the progressiveness of the disease, the earlier the treatment is started, the better.
Some treatments to consider are medication, lifestyle changes, alternative medicine, physiotherapy, and surgery.
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs – These types of drugs should be started early in treatment. They have been found to improve symptoms, decrease joint damage, and improve overall functional abilities.
Common anti-rheumatic drugs include:
- Rituximab and tocilizumab are monoclonal antibodies and are also DMARDs
The most common of these drugs used and many times the first in treatment is Methotrexate. Methotrexate can also be used with other anti-rheumatic drugs to increase remission rates.
After six months, 21% more people had an improvement in their symptoms using a combination of rituximab and methotrexate than those that didn’t.
- Anti-inflammatory Drugs
NSAIDs have been found to reduce both pain and stiffness in those suffering from RA. However, because they do not affect the underlying disease, they are usually not the first choice. Also, those with gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, or kidney-related issues should use caution with taking NSAIDs. Stomach irritation, heart problems, and kidney damage are possible side effects of NSAIDs
Examples of NSAID drugs include:
- Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
Non-NSAID drugs to relieve pain, like paracetamol, may help reduce the pain; however, like NSAIDs, they do not change the underlying disease.
Examples of Non-NSAID drugs
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Naproxen (Aleve)
- Paracetamol – may be associated with the risk of developing ulcers.
Applying heat and cold may help in relieving the soreness of muscles and reducing inflammation.
Electrical stimulation, the elicitation of muscle contraction using electric impulses, can also be used in conjunction with physical therapy.
A TENS unit is a small device that sends electrical signals into your body through electrodes placed on your skin near the area that hurts. Though some people find relief with Electrical stimulation, it is usually short-lived.
Though there isn’t a particular diet for those dealing with rheumatoid arthritis, there are foods with an anti-inflammatory effect.
Some of these anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Coldwater fish – Salmon, tuna, sardines, herring
- Olive oil
- Green Tea
Foods to Avoid
- Corn Oil
- Fried Food, Fast Food, and Processed Foods
Supplements are in abundance, so it’s important to talk with your health care provider before adding supplements to your routine. Some supplements can interact with other medications, so it’s best to err on the safe side. But what are some supplements that are said to help with inflammation?
- Fish Oil
- Contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. However, be aware that the cold-water fish, such as salmon and tuna, that fish oil is derived from can contain high mercury levels, so do your research.
- Fish Oil can also slow blood clotting, so you will want to talk to your doctor, especially if you take blood thinners or high blood pressure medications.
- A spice that contains a compound, curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. A small study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food concluded that turmeric and its compounds could help alleviate pain and inflammation. Being that this was a small study, though, more research needs to be done to see if the results translate into a more extensive study population.
- Like Fish Oil, turmeric can slow blood clotting, so be sure to consult with your health care provider.
- Boswellia or Indian Frankincense
- Has potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Like other supplement studies, more research needs to be conducted, but according to arthritis.org, Boswellia does look promising in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
Exercise – is useful in maintaining muscle strength and physical function. Exercise can also combat fatigue.
You’ll want to start with gentle exercise that does not lead to more inflammation. As always, before beginning any exercise program, consult with your doctor.
Numerous companies make compression gloves for arthritic hands, many with great reviews.
I wrote an article, 4 Best Gloves For Arthritis in Hands – where I compare four different gloves used to alleviate arthritis pain and discomfort.
There are many arthritis support groups where you can interact with others that have rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes it can be so beneficial to have contact with others who are going through the same issues you are. To find a support group by you, go to www.arthritis.org and look for a local group. They also have an online community that many find helpful.
The more information you gather about arthritis and rheumatism, the more knowledge you will have to handle this disease in your life successfully. With an understanding of the symptoms you are experiencing, you can better address those symptoms individually. You might find one treatment is better than others for you, and that is okay. Something that may work for someone in your support group might not be something that works for you. I hope in reading, About Arthritis and Rheumatism, some of your questions have been answered. What’s important is that you discuss your symptoms with your doctor and make a treatment plan that is beneficial to you.
Have you experienced arthritis or any treatments; do you have any questions or comments? Please comment below – I would love to hear from you.