Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be baffling, a twist of the immune system that causes the body to attack itself, damaging joints and organs. It usually strikes adults between ages 40 and 60 and is twice as common in women as men. Below are facts that may help you understand and live.
Know your risk. “The cause of RA is not known,” says Dr. Chaim Putterman, chief of rheumatology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “But there’s often a family history. And smoking is an additional risk factor.”
Push for early diagnosis. Normally, RA is not difficult to diagnose, but it can be tricky if at first only one joint is affected, says Putterman: “Typically RA first involves the hands and multiple joints on both sides of the body.”
Understand your meds. Treatment advances enable many patients to go into remission, although they must remain on medications, says Dr. Allen Steere, Harvard medical professor and director of rheumatology research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs [DMARDs] in combination make remission more possible.” That’s because each drug targets different inflammatory pathways.
Exercise often. “Exercise preserves joint and cardiovascular health,” says Putterman. “The cause of death among patients with RA is commonly not their joint problems but cardiovascular disease.”
Eat well. A healthy diet—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and fish loaded with omega-3 fatty acids—promotes overall well-being and a healthy weight. For every pound lost, three pounds of pressure lifts from aching joints.
Don’t let RA stop you. “It’s often possible to get RA under reasonable control,” says Steere, “and then go ahead and live one’s life.”