Patient Referral
Employee Referral
Make A Donation

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease affecting 1.5 million Americans, and most of those are women. Rheumatoid Awareness Day recently took place on February 2, providing a timely opportunity to shed light on this disease that affects so many around the country. Arthritis is a common affliction in hospice in Alameda County and elsewhere, and we see the effects on a regular basis. Let’s explore five quick facts about rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Fact #1: It’s an Autoimmune Disease

With RA, the immune system is under attack by its own body — a body that under normal circumstances would safeguard you from foreign substances such as viruses and bacteria. Those foreign substances get into the joints, leading to inflammation, pain, stiffness, and swelling. As a result, the joints can’t move normally. About a million and a half people suffer from this condition, not only affecting their quality of life but bringing long-term health concerns as well.

Fact #2: Symptoms Tend to Worsen, or Flare Up

There are many signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, but there are times when they can worsen. These are known as flares. When the symptoms seem to get better, this is called remission.

Here are some of the signs of RA according to the CDC:

  • Pain or aching in the joints
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness and swelling
  • Same symptoms on both sides of your body (i.e., both knees or both hands)
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue

Fact #3: There are Many Risk Factors for RA

There are several genetic and environmental factors that can determine one’s risk level for this disease, such as:

  • Age: While any age is susceptible to the onset of RA, the likelihood increases as we get older. Adults in their sixties have the highest occurrence.
  • Gender: RA is 2x to 3x more common in women.
  • Genetics: People with genes known as HLA (human leukocyte antigen) can have worse cases of arthritis. The risk is even higher when paired with environmental considerations such as obesity or smoking.
  • Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of getting RA, and will worsen it in pre-existing conditions.
  • History of live births: Women who have given birth are at a lower risk of RA than those who have never.
  • Early Life Exposures: Sometimes early exposure to risk factors can heighten the risk of RA later in life. One study revealed that children whose mothers smoked were at double the risk of getting RA as an adult, as are children of lower-income parents.
  • Obesity: The more overweight a person is, the higher their risk. 

Fact #4: RA is Linked to Fibromyalgia

Between 20 and 30 percent of people who have RA also have fibromyalgia, a pain disorder that leads to tender points throughout the body, fatigue, depression, mood changes, anxiety, TMJ disorders, tension headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep difficulties, and cognitive issues. Fibromyalgia worsens painful sensations by impacting how the brain and spinal cord process painful and non-painful signals, points out the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms often set in after a specific event, such as surgery, physical trauma, infection, or source of psychological stress. Other times, symptoms can be gradual in nature with no single event to trigger them.

Fact #5: There is No Cure

While there is currently no cure, there are some treatments that can alleviate discomfort. These treatments can range from lifestyle changes to medication, and many times both.

There are four medications that your doctor may prescribe:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Corticosteroids: These help decrease inflammation, and are designed for short-term use, says Healthline.
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): These slow the progression of RA, but can cause side effects.
  • Biologic Response Modifiers: These are used to bolster immune systems that don’t respond well to DMARDs.

Lifestyle changes can also help. It’s recommended people suffering from RA strike a balance between exercise and rest to reduce inflammation while maintaining flexibility and strength. Always consult with your doctor first. But generally, you may begin with simple stretching exercises, working up to strength training, water therapy, aerobic exercises, and even tai chi. Stress management techniques can also help, such as breathing exercises, guided meditation, mindfulness, and journaling.

Dietary changes can also help, such as cutting out sugar and gluten while increasing intake of omega-3s. Your doctor can suggest specific plans of attack to better manage the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. In hospice, the care team is made aware of the condition and can work with the patient on a daily basis to achieve optimal levels of comfort.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

To get more information on how we can help comfort those with rheumatoid arthritis and to learn more about our hospice program, contact us at 888-978-1306. We have many helpful resources for patients and their family members, as well as a comprehensive care team that is here to answer any of your questions about our hospice care services.