Swelling in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Why It Happens and What to Do About It
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disorder that damages the lining and cartilage of the joints. This damage leads to painful swelling. RA can cause permanent damage, so early treatment is important.
Click through to learn more about RA and what you can do about it.
Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Overview
Many people with RA don’t suffer pain all the time. Instead, they have RA flare-ups. They will experience one flare-up, and then can have long periods of no serious symptoms. Remission can sometimes last between two to five years.
For some people, however, RA symptoms are continuous. Symptoms can also worsen over time.
There is no cure for RA, but there are a number of treatments that can help put the disease into remission.
What Causes Swelling in Rheumatoid Arthritis?
RA happens when the immune system attacks the lining of the joints. Fluid then builds up around the joints. This causes painful swelling, which may lead to permanent joint damage.
RA usually affects both sides of the body equally. RA inflammation also can happen throughout the body and not just in the joints.
Sufferers may experience a number of symptoms, such as:
- feeling drained
- a low-grade fever
- sight problems
Am I at Risk for Developing RA?
Certain factors can make you more likely to develop RA.
It's thought that genes play a part in the development of RA. Having family members with RA can increase your chances of developing the disorder.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that women tend to be affected more often than men are. Women between 40 and 60 years of age generally are considered most at risk.
Smokers are also more likely to develop RA.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: What Treatments are Available?
Medication can be used to help ease the pain and stiffness of RA. These include:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- disease-modifying drugs (DMDs)
Physical or occupational therapy can help sufferers improve how they move. Splints also may be used to support the joints.
You can play a big part in managing your own symptoms. The next few slides explain more about symptom management strategies that you can use.
Joint Protection to Prevent RA Flares
Joint protection strategies can help prevent joint swelling and pain.
Using bigger joints over smaller groups is one such strategy. For example, you should avoid lifting heavy objects. Instead, opt for sliding them across work surfaces when possible. This will help keep the delicate arm and finger joints injury free. Whole body movements should also be used wherever possible.
Specially designed gadgets also can help RA sufferers manage tasks like cooking and cleaning.
Good Posture to Reduce Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain and Swelling
Simple changes to how you sit or stand can help fight pain during RA flare-ups.
Using good back and foot support is important when sitting. Finding a chair that’s higher than average also can make it easier to get on your feet.
Avoid stooping to prevent stressing your joints. Make sure the objects you need to use regularly are at countertop level to achieve good standing posture.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Prevent Pain and Swelling
Several lifestyle changes that can improve RA symptoms include:
- quitting smoking: Smoking weakens bones and organs. Quitting smoking can help keep your bones strong and improve mobility.
- eating healthy: A balanced diet that contains ample vitamin D is important. Vitamin D helps maintain good bone health.
- managing weight: Being overweight puts extra stress on the joints. Reducing body weight to a healthy level improves movement and can reduce RA symptoms.
Time to Get Moving: Exercise Helps Prevent Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
Moving swollen joints can be painful. Still, regular exercise can help prevent joint swelling and pain.
Exercise can help you by:
- strengthening the muscles around the joints
- keeping bones strong
- improving overall strength, sleep patterns, and general health
You should always consult a doctor before starting any exercise program.
Exercises to Help Fight Pain and Swelling
Stretching can prevent joint stiffness. Enlisting a stretching program throughout the day can make joints supple and keep a good range of motion.
Some moderate exercises that your doctor may mention include:
- tai chi
You may find that lifting weights can be helpful. Weight lifting strengthens bones and muscles. Strong bones can help you fight joint injury.
RA: The Importance of Rest
Getting enough rest is generally good advice. Being well rested is especially important for RA sufferers.
Working steadily during day-to-day activities is useful for those with RA. Stretching and joint exercises will help keep stiffness manageable. Taking time for quick rest periods throughout the day also can help prevent stiffness and potentially prevent the development of pain.
During bad RA flare-ups, bed rest is often advised for easing pain and helping prevent injury.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Living Life to the Fullest
There are ways to make the symptoms of RA more manageable.
You can avoid joint damage and disability with joint protection strategies. Taking simple steps like exercising and eating healthily can help you take control of your RA symptoms.
There is a wealth of support out there for RA sufferers. A doctor can advise you on the best treatment plan for your needs.
- Arthritis: Frequently Asked Questions – General Public. (2011, August 1). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/faqs.htm
- Exercise Helps Ease Arthritis Pain and Stiffness. (2013, February 14). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arthritis/AR00009
- Rheumatoid Arthritis. (2013, July 30). Arthritis Care. November 25, 2013, from http://www.arthritiscare.org.uk/AboutArthritis/Conditions/Rheumatoidarthritis.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis. (2012, November 19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/rheumatoid.htm
- Rheumatoid Arthritis. (2013, May 7). University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/rheumatoid-arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis: Definition. (2013, July 27). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/rheumatoid-arthritis/DS00020
- Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain: Tips for Protecting Your Joints. (2012, May 4). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arthritis/AR00015
- What Can You Do About It? (n.d.). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://www.arthritis.org/why-is-early-treatment-so-important.php
- What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis? (n.d.). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://www.arthritis.org/types-what-is-rheumatoid-arthritis.php
- What People with Rheumatoid Arthritis Need to Know About Osteoporosis. (n.d.), NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/Conditions_Behaviors/osteoporosis_ra.asp