Did you know that almost 300,000 Canadians suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? This equates to almost 1 out of 100 adults.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating disease that can cause chronic issues. It is often seen in women, affecting them up to two or three times more frequently.
Can you manage RA without medication? The downside to prescription medication are the negative side effects. Additionally, there are different phases of RA that are easier to manage without medication.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects your joints. Oftentimes, RA will impact the joints further away from the center of your body and work inwards. It tends to also affect both sides at the same time.
You might have seen people with nodular and distorted fingers. This is caused by your body attacking the joints of your fingers, hands, and wrists. It can lead to damaged tendons and the hallmark deformities you see in people with RA.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for RA and most people manage it with medication, lifestyle changes, and holistic remedies.
Symptoms and Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Excessive fatigue, weight loss, achiness, and dry eyes might be some initial signs of RA. However, these are common symptoms that we deal with occasionally. More specific rheumatoid arthritis symptoms involve the swelling of your joints and numbness or tingling.
Sometimes in the early stages of RA, you can have your vision impacted. This happens as inflammation damages the glands that moisturize your eyes and lead to what is called Sjogren's syndrome.
You may start to notice stiffness when you wake up in the morning and difficulty moving your joints. Eventually, this is what leads to the formation of nodules. Technically, these nodules can happen at any point in the process of RA but are more commonly associated with advanced RA. They are basically semi-hard lumps under the skin and make it difficult to effectively use your joints.
How do you get diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis?
If someone is displaying obvious signs of rheumatoid arthritis, then you can safely assume that it is that diagnosis. However, since RA mimics other diseases, your physician might want to run further tests.
They will look at certain blood markers, protein levels, and specific antibodies to diagnose RA. They can also order imaging to see the progression of the disease on your joints.
Can RA Be Cured at the Early Stages?
Research has not yet pointed to a cure for RA. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of options available that have progressed in the management of this disease. Some people are able to go into remission for years.
If you are taking added supplements or ingesting other holistic herbs, it is best if you talk to your rheumatologist beforehand. Sometimes these added supplements can interfere with other medications. At this time, there isn't any long-term support that has shown supplements to help in stopping the advancement of RA.
There are other management techniques for a rheumatoid arthritis treatment plan.
Acupuncture can help manage pain and inflammation in your joints, but it is recommended you go through a trusted and reliable practitioner since it involves needles. Along those lines, massage can also help alleviate pain and sore areas.
This doesn't mean that you should neglect exercise. Movement is essentially lotion for your joints and can help improve your mobility and cardiovascular health. It's beneficial to participate in low-impact activities such as swimming or biking to help with discomfort from arthritis.
Meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi can help you manage your breathing and relaxation strategies. Additionally, Tai Chi and yoga incorporate balance and flexibility.
Surprisingly, Turmeric acts as a non-steroidal inflammatory drug (NSAID) to help reduce pain and inflammation. It can be used in conjunction with other over-the-counter medications.
Many medication treatment plans also incorporate what is called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs or steroids. When these are used with NSAIDs and lifestyle adjustments, it has been found to be fairly successful.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of RA?
When rheumatoid arthritis is not treated, it can lead to serious consequences. You can cause irreversible damage to your joints that will lead to severe immobility.
When your body is constantly attacking your joints, it essentially shuts down to other illnesses that enter your body. This puts you at risk of developing an infection.
One of the more serious, long-term complications of RA is heart disease. In fact, people who are diagnosed with RA are at twice the risk of developing heart disease.
It is extremely important to reach out to a rheumatologist for management of RA within the first two years to avoid joint damage. Since RA is not a curable disease, this will be an ongoing process throughout your life.
However, it can be well-managed with healthy lifestyle choices and communication with your rheumatologist on treatment plans.
For this reason, it is vital that you have access to health insurance. Qualifying for health insurance is made easier through Insurdinary. They offer a marketplace of various insurances with fast quotes, the lowest rates, and easy sign-ups.
Being insured can help give you peace of mind for upcoming medical expenses and treatment plans.
What Is the Criteria for Rheumatoid Remission?
With RA being difficult to diagnosis at times, you might be wondering how you classify it as being in remission. Most autoimmune diseases go through different phases and can sometimes go into what is called remission.
For rheumatoid arthritis, this is seen by one or fewer swollen/tender joints, a blood test, and patient reports of 1 or lower on the arthritis activity scale.
What are the odds of remission? Unfortunately, studies vary on how many people experience remission. It has shown anywhere from 10% to almost 60%.
To begin with, one factor that has been linked to higher remission rates is low disease markers. When you are in remission and feeling better than you have been, it might be tempting to ask your physician about stopping your medications.
Some physicians will taper a patient off of their medication regime completely or to a smaller dosage. However, it has not been found to be very effective to completely go off of medication for more than a year.
Many physicians will taper the dosage to help keep your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms at bay. Ultimately it is up to you on how your want to proceed with your medication, but it is best if you consult with your rheumatologist first.
What Happens If You Relapse?
If a relapse happens, which it does, then your doctor might suggest a few things. It is not uncommon for you to experience a relapse, and you shouldn't get frustrated. In fact, one in three people experiences both remission and relapse.
First, it could indicate that your medications are not working as well and you need to change what you are taking. Your rheumatologist can help you with this part.
It could also mean that you need to completely adjust your entire treatment plan or look at other life modifiers to change. This can include incorporating exercise or meditation into your daily regime.
Despite what medication you are taking, you could still have a relapse and it is important to be able to adjust different things in your life to manage your pain.
When you are changing medications or looking at other medical options, it is important for you to consider the benefits of your health care plan. While provincial health care plans provide quality insurance to many people, it is important to look at the specifics.
At times, there are certain services that aren't covered under your plan and you'll need to look up your province and health plan to make sure you're covered when you, or your doctor, want to try different avenues.
Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis without Medication
So - can you manage RA without medication? The answer is it depends on everyone. Some people start out with fewer symptoms than others and puts them at a higher likelihood to go into remission and transition off of prescription medication.
However, so far studies have shown that this is only a very small percentage of people and most require medication. This is not to discount the benefit of adding healthy lifestyle habits and eating to your day.
It is also important that you research and apply for health insurance to qualify for coverage of doctor's visits, imaging, and medication. Check out this form to see what you can qualify for to make sure you are receiving the best that Canada's health care has to offer.