Top 11 Ways to Lower Your Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis Flares

Top 11 Ways to Lower Your Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis Flares

Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be inconvenient, bothersome and downright painful but there is hope. Learning about the common flare triggers, how to manage pain and inflammation when it occurs, and most of all how to improve your lifestyle will set you on a clearer path to health and living your best life with RA.

Who Is at Risk?

According to Carrie DeVries of the Arthritis Health blog, there are 4 key factors that determine your risk for RA, and your risk for flares when you have it. Among the known risk factors, some are beyond our control, like our genetics. For example, there is a known genetic marker called HLA-DR4 found frequently in adults with RA. 60 to 70% of caucasians with RA have this marker, as compared to 20% of the general population. However, the gene alone is not sufficient enough as a sign to test for it, so doctors typically diagnose RA without a genetic test.

Hormones also play a role. In general, women are more at risk than men for RA, which many experts attribute to women being more susceptible to hormone fluctuation. Studies have shown that risk increases when hormone levels drop, as is the case after pregnancy or at menopause.

Infections and your body’s microbiome also play a role but one that can be managed to some degree. Research has shown a connection between RA and certain viral or bacterial infections in the body. Researchers are also exploring \the connection between RA and the body’s microbiome. Your intestinal tract hosts a wide range of microorganisms, known as the body’s microbiome. Though further research is required to determine the connections between RA, infections, and the microbiome there are easy steps you can take to improve your microbiome health that bear a variety of known benefits beyond RA (more on this below).

Lastly, your lifestyle is a major risk factor and the one you have the most control in managing. This includes your stress management practices, diet and exercise habits. Today, we will focus on key improvements you can make right now that will reduce your risk for RA, and lower your risk of a flare if you have RA.

Without further ado, let’s talk action steps. What follows are 10 steps you can take right now to live your best life with RA, reduce your risk of flares, and lower inflammation to improve your overall health.

11 Ways to Lower Your Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare-ups

As mentioned above, your lifestyle is the number one factor that you can control in reducing your risk of RA, and of having a flare if you have RA. A sudden increase in RA inflammation can include rheumatoid arthritis symptoms like joint pain, joint swelling, and fatigue. The triggers for a flare are different for different people, and they’re not always predictable but the good news is that each of the 10 steps outlined below are beneficial to your overall health. This means that while taking these steps can directly reduce risk factors for RA, they all bear positive side effects for your overall health.

Bernard Rubin, DO, MPH, chief of rheumatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit explains, “…the cause of a flare may not be clear. It could be one thing that happened a few days ago or a number of things that have accumulated over time.” With that in mind, let’s explore the steps you can take to accumulate positive health factors and reduce your risk.

  1. Manage Your Stress Every Day

    Stress is a leading cause of most human illness of all varieties. You’ve surely heard this before, but what are you doing to actively manage your stress? Yoga, meditation, acupuncture, taking walks, and making space for quiet time are just a few of the many effective ways that you can reduce stress in your day to day life. Try adding one stress- relieving activity to every day of the week. Even if all you can make is 10 minutes to sit quietly and turn off the screens, and shut out the noise of our busy modern routines. A review of 16 studies on stress and RA risk factors, published in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy in 2010, concluded that despite being difficult to study, sufficient evidence exists to support the notion that stress is often an RA flare trigger.

  2. Improve Your Diet to Lower Systemic Inflammation

    When it comes to diet and RA, it’s all about minimizing inflammation. The golden rule is that processed, fried and sugary foods all increase inflammation. Refined sugars like those found in soda, candy and most juices reek havoc on your immune system by causing systemic inflammation. One large study of women indicated that consuming soda directly increased RA risk. Starchy carbohydrates like white bread also break down to sugar in your digestive tract, and may contain gluten which is known to cause inflammation. Removing or vastly reducing refined sugars, gluten, and bleached flour carbohydrates directly lowers inflammation in your body, which will benefit you in terms of RA, but also in regards to healthy blood sugar, energy levels and mood. Obesity vastly increases your risk of RA, which can be avoided for many people through diet and exercise. It should also be noted that healthy diet and exercise fuel your immune response to a vast array of health risks. Because food allergies and chemical sensitivities vary from person to person, it’s important to keep track of what you eat and how it affects you. This will allow you and your doctor to pinpoint flare factors in your own lifestyle.

  3. Use Low Impact Exercise to Increase Mobility and Energy Levels

    The most common misconception about RA is that people with RA can’t or shouldn’t exercise because of fatigue or joint pain. Sedentary lifestyle leads to more sedentary lifestyle. Using lower impact exercise that avoid pressure and impact on the joints is one way to keep your body moving and your joints lubricated. Yoga and Tai Chi are two of the best options. It’s important to balance your rest and activity if you are experiencing a flare. During a flare, you will need more rest, but still need some activity. Total rest may worsen an RA flare. Even some simple range-of-motion exercises can help prevent pain and joint stiffness.

  4. Quit Smoking (Right Now)

    Nicotine in the bloodstream may increase rheumatoid factor levels. It goes without saying that smoking poses a long list of risks to your health and should be avoided. Those with RA absolutely must stop smoking immediately in order to equip the body with its best chance for fighting off a flare.

  5. Sleep More

    Rest is paramount to health. According to Dr. Rubin, “Overexertion can trigger rheumatoid arthritis inflammation, increase fatigue, and trigger a rheumatoid arthritis flare. New medications may be the best for reducing symptoms of fatigue.” According to Rubin, chemicals known as cytokines promote inflammation and cause fatigue in people with RA. A new kind of drugs, called biologics, are designed to prevent the release of cytokines and therefore protect against fatigue. So, you may want to ask your doctor about these medications, but in the meantime, your best bet is to ensure that you are sleeping at least eight hours per night.

  6. Consider Your Gut Health

    Though the research is ongoing, there is a suspected link between your body’s microbiome and risk factors for RA. One way that you can improve your gut health is by adding a probiotic supplement, like acidophilus, to your diet, or just adding some yogurt to your breakfast. The link between the bacteria in your gut and your overall health is an evolving science, but improving your gut health is an easy adjustment to make.

  7. Put Enzymes To Work For You

    Your body contains trillions of enzymes, which are necessary to perform millions of biochemical reactions every day, like those that help you to breathe, break down food and even see. Enzymes play the key role of significantly speeding up these biochemical reactions. However, your body’s manufacture of enzymes slows down with age, declining up to 13 percent per decade after you reach puberty. Thus, the symptoms of enzyme deficiency can include a number of conditions commonly associated with aging. This includes the inflammation that con cause or worsen a flare. A proteolytic enzyme supplement can offset enzyme decline, improve your body’s processes and reduce inflammation.

  8. Take Your Glucosamine

    Glucosamine is a naturally occuring compound in the body that can be taken as a supplement to reduce joint pain. Typical dosing for most studies was 500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate, three times a day. It’s always good to talk to your doctor before adding dietary supplements, but Glucosamine is among the tried and true for managing the symptoms associated with RA.

  9. Add Fish Oil or Omega-3 Supplements to Your Diet

    Eating a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids or adding a fish oil or flaxseed oil supplement is an easy adjustment to make that can help reduce inflammation across your body.

  10. Have a Flare Plan

    Always have a flare support plan in place. This might include friends and family members who can help at home. For a minor flare, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) may be a helpful part of your plan. These are over-the-counter medications that relieve pain and reduce rheumatoid arthritis inflammation. Hot or cold packs can reduce joint pain and swelling, so you’ll want to keep these handy. In the case of more serious flares, you should talk to your doctor about treatment. “For a more serious flare, you may need to add a stronger medication such as a course of prescription steroids by pill or a steroid injection for a painful joint,” Rubin says.

  11. Continue Learning About Your Condition

    You should learn as much as you can about your condition and have open communication with your doctor. Research into the root causes of RA and flares is ongoing. This is why it’s important to continue researching, continue asking questions, and not be afraid to try something new.

Final Thoughts

Avoiding the known triggers, improving your diet, managing your stress, and getting enough rest are the best known ways to avoid flares, but following these steps doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never have a flare. It’s critical to learn to be aware of the early symptoms of a flare. This way, you can let your doctor know what’s happening and activate your flare management plan. Lastly, don’t be discouraged if you’ve made steps in the right direction and still experience symptoms. Keep pushing forward and trying new ways to improve your health. Your best path is likely to be a combination of the 10 suggestions above that is tailored to your unique body and lifestyle.

Categories: Health Topics

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