I’m sure as a child you would have noticed persons, especially older women, with deformed/swollen fingers and said to yourself, “I don’t wanna get old and get like that; getting old isn’t nice.”
And while, to some extent and in some cases, it is true that getting old isn’t nice, for those thoughts I’m sorry! You can take good care of your body but a number of us don’t... and unfortunately still suffer the fate of one or more ailments/diseases.
Although it is an auto-immune disorder, it could have mental effects also, because of the pains... and the emotions attached to the fact that your joints sometimes become visibly swollen and deformed. It occurs twice to three times more in women, and tends to come on between the ages of 40 and 60, hence affecting people’s professional and social life at its peak, leading to sociological, physical and economic issues.
Because it is a chronic illness, it may last for years without being fatal. Long symptom-free periods exist, with the occasional flare. If not already diagnosed, when these signs and symptoms appear, please check your doctor/rheumatologist.
• Muscle/Joint pain
• Swelling of joints
• Red/puffy joints
• Loss of energy
• Rheumatoid nodules forming under the skin on your arms
• Fatigue/Difficulty sleeping
• Muscle/Joint stiffness that tends to occur in the morning and may last for hours
• Lack of appetite/Weight loss
• Excessive joint fluid production.
These symptoms rotate and manifest at different severities. When in remission, persons can be free of symptoms for weeks, months, sometimes even years. The return is referred to as a flare.
The hands are quite often badly affected, to the extent that basic tasks like holding a knife and opening items/objectives are almost impossible. With the feet, walking becomes an issue. Pains and the other discomforts may also be experienced with some small joints like the wrist, ankles, shoulders, elbows, knees, hip, jaw and neck.
The precise cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still undetermined, although it is believed that it is genetic or inherited. It is also suspected that certain infections or factors in the environment might trigger the immune system in susceptible individuals. Whatever the cause, the result is that the immune system gets geared up and promotes inflammation in the joints and at times in other tissues of the body. It is also alleged that smoking tobacco could increase the risk of developing this disease.
Factors that may increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis include:
• Gender — Again women are more likely to develop it than men.
• Age — It usually starts between the ages of 40 and 60 but can occur at any age.
• Family history — Can predispose you.
• Smoking — Smoking cigarettes.
In its early stages it can be difficult to diagnose since many signs and symptoms are similar to other diseases. A number of tests are usually done before a diagnosis is given.
Since no cure has been found yet for the disease, medication and therapy are basically the methods used to alleviate pains, slow down joint damage and ease discomfort. In advanced instances, surgery or living with pain and limited mobility are the only options.
Learning to cope with and approach daily tasks is important. Therapy to teach ways to hold, turn and lift objects is quite helpful. Use assistive devices to make daily tasks easier without causing additional stress to your already painful joints. A cane, walker or wheelchair may sometimes be necessary; don’t be concerned with false pride, be practical.
This can be done to repair damaged joints, reduce pains, correct deformities and restore mobility. However, a number of factors would be considered in each individual’s case to determine whether of not this would be best.
The types of surgeries that can be performed may involve one or more of the following procedures:
• Total joint replacement
• Tendon repair.
• Removal of the joint lining
• Joint fusion
Lifestyle and Home Remedies
Simple exercises can help strengthen the muscles around your joints. Liaise with your doctor or relevant specialist before you start exercising. Walking and aqua therapy are good.
Apply heat or cold
Heat can help ease your pain and relax tense, painful muscles. One of the easiest and most effective ways to apply heat is to take a hot shower or bath for 15 minutes. Other options include using a hot pack or an electric heating pad.
Cold may dull the sensation of pain. Cold also has a numbing effect and decreases muscle spasms. Don’t use cold treatments if you have poor circulation or numbness. Treatments may include using cold packs, soaking the affected joints in cold water and ice massage.
Coping and Support
Coping with the disease determines to what extent it affects your routine activities. Devise coping mechanisms/strategies to deal with the situation. Some basic options are to:
• Take control — Managing your arthritis and treatment make the experience a better one.
• Know your limits — Rest periodically, don’t overextend yourself.
• Connect with others — Keep family close and aware, join a support group, or better yet form one.
• Take time for yourself — While it’s important to consume your body and soul with activities, it’s key to connect spiritually and relieve stress by doing things that are of interest to you.
Next week the final article in the arthritis series would focus on juvenile arthritis.
Your feet mirror your general health... cherish them!