Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune conditions occur when the immune system mistakenly targets and attacks specific healthy cells in the body, causing damage. In RA, the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, which causes pain and swelling. This can also cause stiffness, loss of normal movement, and sometimes change the shape of joints. The inflammation from RA can occur in other areas of the body, too. The cause of RA is unknown; however, genetic factors and bacteria and/or viruses may play a role. Women are more likely to get RA compared to men, and make up about 75% of RA cases.
How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects the Body
People with rheumatoid arthritis often have periods of symptoms called “flare-ups” and symptom-free times, called “remission”. RA usually first appears in the small joints of the hands and feet, but can later move to larger joints like wrists, elbows, and knees. Other health problems can develop as well. These problems include low iron, fever, eye inflammation, infection, and extreme tiredness. People with RA may also be at higher risk of having heart disease, certain types of cancer, gastrointestinal diseases, and osteoporosis (low bone density).
There are many treatment goals. These goals involve reducing pain, lowering inflammation, slowing the spread of the disease through the body, and improving quality of life. Common RA treatments include medications and surgery. Lifestyle changes, such as diet, getting enough sleep, stress management and exercise, are also an important part of staying well with RA.
To better understand Rheumatoid Arthritis, your symptoms, and how nutrition is affected, see the table below for more details.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Swelling of the lining of the joints usually begins in the smaller joints that connect the fingers to the hands and toes to the feet.
- Wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips, and shoulders may also become swollen and painful.
- Non-joint body parts including, skin, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, salivary glands, nerve tissue, bone marrow, and blood vessels can also be affected as the disease progresses.
- Pain and swelling of the joints most often occurs on both sides of the body.
- Some people may experience rheumatoid nodules (lumps) that form under the skin.
How Nutrition is Affected
- Painful joints can make it challenging to shop, prepare meals or eat, increasing the risk for being deficient in certain nutrients.
- If pain occurs in the jaw, it can decrease the ability to chew or swallow, which can lead to a low nutrient intake and low levels of important nutrients in the body.
- Certain RA medications can affect how your body absorbs certain vitamins and minerals, increasing the body’s need for those nutrients.
- In severe RA, the body requires more energy to function, increasing the need for calories and protein.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where symptoms can come and go without warning. A period of symptoms is called a “flare” or “flare-up”, while a symptom-free period is called “remission”.
See below for common symptoms during a flare-up.
To better manage your symptoms and keep track of your diet, download our Food and Symptom tracker:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Most Common Symptoms
- Painful, swollen joints
- Pain and stiffness after sleeping or long periods of sitting
- Symmetrical joint inflammation; pain and swelling occurring at the same time on both sides of the body (for example, left wrist and right wrist)
- Body discomfort
- Extreme tiredness
- Anemia (low iron)
- Damaged or weakened tendons
- Damaged or destroyed ligaments, joint cartilage and bone due to swelling
- Bone loss leading to misshapen joints
Understanding Your Medications
Getting a diagnosis can be overwhelming, especially if you need complicated care. Along with good nutrition, taking your prescribed medication as directed is an important part of a successful treatment plan. The Meijer Specialty Pharmacy care team is here for you every step of the way. Our pharmacists are available 24/7 to answer questions and to help you get the most out of your medication.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic, autoimmune condition. Autoimmune conditions happen when your immune system mistakenly attacks some of your own cells, causing damage. In RA, this attack starts in the lining of your joints, causing painful swelling, but can also happen in other parts of the body like the eyes, lungs, heart, blood vessels and skin. All of the medications used to treat RA work by either targeting the cells that are wrongly attacking your body or by decreasing the inflammation that happens after the attack.
Biologic medications work by blocking specific immune system cells so they can’t attack your joints. When these immune cells are blocked, there is less inflammation and you experience fewer symptoms. Below you will find some helpful facts and tips about the medications you might be taking.
These medications work by blocking the chemicals in the body that are released when the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body. These chemicals lead to the inflammation and swelling that cause damage to the joints in RA.