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Pain Relief for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Aug 17, 2007
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis. In the United States alone, it affects about seven million individuals, most of them women. People of all ages can get this disease, but it usually manifests itself when one reaches his or her middle age. As with most other forms of arthritis, such as gout, osteoarthritis, and psoriatic arthritis, the rheumatoid version can cause extreme pain, limiting one's mobility and adversely affecting the patient's quality of life. Naturally, the issue of pain relief is a welcome topic for arthritis sufferers.

Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by swelling and pain, and can affect the joints in the ankle, knee, foot, hand, and wrist. It has also been known to affect the spine as well. There is still some mystery as to what causes this disease, but science has been investigating the hormonal, environmental, and genetic factors that contribute to the condition's occurrence. What is known is that somehow, something goes haywire within the body's immune system and instead of protecting itself, it turns and attacks the joints -- hence its classification as an autoimmune disease.

The 19th-century French artist Pierre-August Renoir and comedienne Lucille Ball are only two of other famous people who have been victims of this disease. Like other patients, they most probably suffered from symptoms such as inflammation of a joint (which feels hot or tender to the touch), possibly fever and loss of weight, and a decline in the level of energy. But most of all, one's waking moments are characterized by unremitting pain, the most common symptom. That's why pain relief is not only desired but essential if one is to at least able to go on functioning in the most optimal way possible.

There are several pain killers prescribed by doctors for rheumatoid patients. Probably the most common medication is something called NSAIDs, the acronym for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. NSAIDs do not inhibit the progress of the disease, but they do a lot to reduce swelling and the associated pain. However, some NSAIDs, such as COX-2 inhibitors, have come under fire from the public because of significant side effects that they can cause, including kidney and heart problems. Corticosteroid drugs taken orally are prescribed in cases where the pain and inflammation are very severe; but again, there are potentially serious side effects associated with them, so they should not be taken without your physician's approval.

Because of the growing concern over side effects, many patients are turning to natural and alternative therapies to manage their symptoms. Natural treatment regimens for rheumatoid arthritis abound; involving substances ranging from gold to herbs to marine products. For instance, dandelion capsules and celery seeds are reputed to reduce uric acid levels in the body, and this is good because excessively high uric acid levels can exacerbate symptoms. Herbs like dong quai, boswellia, and sarsaparilla have anti-inflammatory properties which reduce swelling. There is also growing evidence that dietary supplements containing chondroitin and glucosamine are beneficial for arthritis sufferers -- but many medical experts caution their use for in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, saying they are only to be used by those suffering from osteoarthritis. Other natural therapeutic methods used to treat the disease include acupuncture, massage, and hydrotherapy.

Medical experts cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of a healthy diet for those suffering from the disease. Studies show that patients usually do not have healthy eating habits, and that this disease occurs very rarely in cultures that do not thrive on fast food and other fatty foods. A diet based on whole foods, vegetables, fruits, and certain types of seafood is recommended; one that is rich in sugar, refined carbohydrates, saturated fat, and sugar is not. Surprisingly, some foods that are healthy can actually aggravate arthritic pain in some patients; these include dairy and wheat products, and vegetables like tomatoes and eggplants.

Exercise is another important factor in creating the foundation for arthritis management. Physical therapists will generally recommend exercises that are "joint-friendly," such as walking, riding a stationary bicycle, swimming and other water activities. Moving an affected joint in its full range of motion is recommended, as long as you keep the movement smooth to avoid inflicting pain. Exercise is good, but it should not be overdone because it will worsen the pain, not relieve it.

There is no cure as yet for rheumatoid arthritis. But with the right diet, exercise, and treatment, a large measure of pain relief can be achieved. It is a manageable condition that should not prevent a person from living a good-quality life and continue to function as a contributing member to society.
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