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Swelling in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) damages the lining and cartilage of the joints. This leads to painful swelling, a common symptom of the disorder. RA can cause permanent damage, so early treatment is important.

Keep reading to learn what causes swelling and what you can do about it.

What causes swelling?

RA occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of the joints. Fluid then builds up in and around the joints. This causes painful swelling, which may lead to permanent joint damage.

RA usually affects both sides of the body equally. Inflammation also can happen throughout the body and not just in the joints.

People with RA may experience a number of symptoms, such as:

  • fatigue
  • low-grade fever
  • anemia
  • eye problems

What treatments are available?

Medication can help ease the pain and stiffness of RA. These medications include:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • corticosteroids
  • disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

Physical or occupational therapy can also help improve movement. Splints can also help support the joints.

How can I prevent flare-ups and swelling?

Strategies for joint protection 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 can also help you manage tasks like cooking and cleaning.

What lifestyle changes can I make to relieve symptoms?

Several lifestyle changes can help ease your symptoms:

  • Quit smoking: Smoking weakens bones and organs. Quitting smoking can help keep your bones strong and improve mobility.
  • Use good posture: Having 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 a good standing posture.
  • Eat healthy: A balanced diet that contains ample vitamin D is important. Vitamin D helps maintain good bone health.
  • Manage your weight: Being overweight puts extra stress on the joints. Reducing body weight to a healthy level improves movement and can reduce RA symptoms.

Can I exercise if I have RA?

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 your doctor before starting any exercise program. Some moderate exercises that your doctor may mention include:

  • walking
  • swimming
  • biking
  • yoga
  • tai chi

You may find that lifting weights (appropriate weight for your hand and wrist involvement) can be helpful. Weight lifting strengthens bones and muscles. Strong bones can help you fight joint injury.

Stretching can also prevent joint stiffness. Using a stretching program throughout the day can make joints supple and keep a good range of motion.

Takeaway

There are many 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 healthy can help you take control of your RA symptoms. Of course, you should also set aside time to rest throughout the day. During bad RA flare-ups, bed rest is often advised for easing pain and helping prevent injury.

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