Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakes and attacks its own tissues as foreign invaders, like viruses and bacteria. RA is systemic—it can affect the entire body> RA can affect the heart, the lungs, the eyes and even the vascular system, but most often it affects the joints and the soft tissues surrounding them.
RA’s symptoms can be devastating. Along with fatigue, low fevers and a general malaise, it can cause inflammation, swelling, pain, and permanent disability in the joints. There is no cure. But today there are many medications that treat not only the symptoms—the inflammation and pain—RA causes, but which also slow the disease down to a crawl and keep it from causing joint and organ destruction
Here are 10 great habits to help you live well with rheumatoid arthritis:
1. Eat a healthy diet. Choose fresh, colorful vegetables; lean meats, chicken and fish; whole grain breads, pasta, and brown rice; low-fat dairy like cheese and yogurt, unsaturated fats like olive and canola oil, and for a treat, fruit.
2. Get plenty of sleep. Your body can fight and heal better when you’re well-rested. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day. Use your bedroom for sex and sleep only: ban your TV, computer, tablet and smart phone from the room. Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. And if you still suffer from insomnia, talk to your doctor.
3. Move your body. Gentle, moderate exercise every day, like range-of-motion stretching and brisk walking strengthen the muscles that support your weight-bearing joints—the hips, knees, ankles and feet. Exercise can help decrease RA pain by helping you reach and maintain a healthy body weight, too.
4. Be a voracious learner. Absorb everything you can learn about RA. One good source of information is your doctor. Another is the Internet—but use care. The best sources of RA information are the CDC, the NIH, and the ArthritisFoundation.
5. Live mindfully. Instead of worrying about the future or regretting the past, focus on the now, the present moment. Pause, often, to look for the gifts each day brings all of us. Consider learning mindfulness meditation—a very easy, amazingly effective method to de-stress, re-energize, and manage pain.
6. Remember to play. RA can stress you out. Give yourself a break! Go out and see a movie, or spend time with good friends. Do things that you enjoy: listen to or make music. Read a book. Pursue a hobby. Have fun.
7. Put your health first. It’s easy to put off taking care of other aspects of your health when you have RA. But when one part of you is off, it may affect another. Be on top of things: get regular medical and dental check-ups.
8. Stick to your medication game plan. Your RA medications need to be taken on a regular schedule—and with care. A multi-compartment pill box that you can fill with a week’s worth of morning and evening doses can help you keep track.
9. Keep pain remedies handy. Even with well-controlled RA, pain can be a real problem. Keep ice packs in the freezer, heat-packs near the microwave. Put salves and lotions where you can get them easily.
1. Focus on others. When you’re in pain, it’s hard to empathize with others. But empathy works, first by distracting you from your own pain, and second, by reminding you that others might need you as much as you need them.
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Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer. Under the pen-name “Wren,” she also writes a blog about living well with rheumatoid arthritis called RheumaBlog (www.rheumablog.wordpress.com). In her spare time, Vandever enjoys cooking, reading and working on the Great American Novel.
· Rheumatoid Arthritis. (2012, Nov. 19) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on January 29, 2014 from http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/rheumatoid.htm
· Handout on Health: Rheumatoid Arthritis. (2013, April) National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on January 29, 2014 from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp
· Rheumatoid Arthritis. (n.d.) Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved on January 29, 2014 from http://www.arthritistoday.org/about-arthritis/types-of-arthritis/rheumatoid-arthritis/
· Meditation: An Introduction. (2010, June) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on January 29, 2014 from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm
· Mediterranean Diet. (2012, Sept. 6) National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on January 29, 2014 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000110.htm