We’ve discussed what it is, who gets it and how we make a diagnosis (and if you missed it, check out our previous post). But WHY does this happen? And can it be avoided? Rheumatoid arthritis is truly life changing. Getting the right rheumatoid arthritis information and understanding how and why our bodies do this can help us gain back control.
So why Rheumatoid Arthritis? What causes it and why did this happen to you? Well, as with most things rheumatic, it’s complicated. Genetics most definitely plays a big role. Having a family member with RA will put everyone in the family at higher risk for developing, not only RA, but any autoimmune condition. This is why it’s so important to know your family history.
Why we get Rheumatoid Arthritis
As with most autoimmune conditions, the theory goes, if an individual with the right collection of genes is exposed to the right trigger, then they can develop rheumatoid arthritis. But which are the “right” genes and what is the “right” trigger? The answer is most likely different for different people. Triggers could be hormone changes, stress, or infections (specifically viral infections). We are currently not able to identify the trigger or prevent the damage exposure to that trigger might do.
But there is a trigger we can prevent. Smoking has over and over again been shown to lead to the development of RA. This includes secondary smoke as well. If one has a family member with rheumatoid arthritis, I would highly, highly, highly recommend quitting! (as if we needed another reason to stop smoking!)
The Rheumatoid Arthritis story
Why do you need medications when you have RA? Why can’t I just take pain medications? Before we talk about medications and treatment, it is important to first understand what happens to those with RA without treatment. Of course everyone is different, but the steady progression of inflammation and joint pain that is seen in under or un-treated RA is by far and away the most common story. If left unchecked, the inflammation of RA can do irreparable damage to the joints. This can leave the joints permanently changed, which in some cases, can lead to disability. The inflammation can also do a number on our heart, brain and blood vessels leaving us susceptible to strokes and heart attacks.
Thankfully, we now have a plethora of options, making the story above far less common than even 25 years ago. Rheumatologists now have a hefty bag of medications to chose from to get your inflammation under control. The options are diverse and choosing the right one for you will require multiple conversations between you and your doctor, but know that your rheumatologist is considering multiple factors when deciding which medication to choose. They are thinking of your pain today, but also your health and vitality for tomorrow.
How you live your life matters
It’s not all about medications, by the way. Lifestyle, including sleep, diet, movement, relationships and stress level all play a large role in pain and inflammation. There is interesting data regarding pro and anti-inflammatory foods and their effect on pain, but keep in mind nothing lives in isolation. There are many diets and protocols claiming to cure RA but diet changes alone are most likely not the most effective approach. One must also ensure they are getting enough restful sleep, that they have an effective and intentional stress management routine and that they regularly move their body. All of these things are integral in helping your immune system regulate itself. And I have seen that when all those things are on point, someone’s medication needs can go down.
Life with rheumatoid arthritis is inevitably going to be different, but it can still be fulfilling. The advances in treatment and understanding of RA in the past 25 years now allows patients to live a life where they are not destined for disability. And like the other autoimmune conditions, RA can serve as a reminder to take care of and be kind to yourself. Our joints will let us know when we’ve pushed ourselves too hard, when we are stressed out or when we need to rest.
In good health,
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