What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) experience swelling and pain in their joints because their immune system attacks them.
Usually, it affects the hands, wrists, and feet, but it can also affect larger joints like your hips and knees.
There is no one-size-fits-all experience when it comes to living and working with rheumatoid arthritis, and everybody has varying experiences with the condition.
Signs and symptoms?
Rheumatoid arthritis is generally characterised by joint pain, swelling, and stiffness.
However, there may also be more general symptoms and inflammation in other parts of the body as well.
Symptoms differ for everyone. Some other general symptoms may include:
- Joint pain
- Swelling, redness and warmth
- Lack of energy and fatigue
- High temperatures and sweating
- A low appetite
- Weight loss
How to get diagnosed?
If you suspect you may have rheumatoid arthritis, you should make an appointment with your GP.
During the physical exam, your doctor will look for swelling in your joints and determine how easily they can move.
There are two tests that you can take to identify RA. These two tests are blood tests and imaging tests.
- Blood tests – By taking a blood test, you can test for inflammation and antibodies that may point towards RA.
- Imaging tests – By doing an X-ray, you can scan to look for erosions on the bones.
5 tips to make life a little easier
Stay on top of your treatment
Follow the directions on your medicine, and try your best to take every dose.
Make sure to keep your doctor updated on any medication side effects or problems.
It's important to keep up with your appointments even when your pain is tolerable.
Your pain may be up and down, but it's still essential to take constant care of your condition regardless of how you feel at the moment.
Make sure to see your doctor 2-4 times a year.
If you still go to a GP, consider consulting a specialist rheumatologist.
This means you will be in regular contact with somebody who deeply understands the condition.
A specialist can help you tweak your treatment plan to enhance your comfort.
People who struggle with RA and see a rheumatologist a few times a year tend to have a better time with their condition.
Note: Do not exercise if you are experiencing sharp pain. Instead, consult your doctor before starting again.
It's natural when you have stiffness in your body and joint pain; you may not feel like moving around too much.
However, exercise is very helpful in helping to ease RA symptoms and preventing any long-term issues that may occur.
The recommended exercise styles for those who have rheumatoid arthritis include stretching and low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, yoga, Pilates and bike riding.
It's also recommended to maintain exercise that strengthens your muscles, such as using light weights or using a resistance band.
Consult a physical or occupational therapist
On top of having a knowledgeable GP and specialist doctor, it's a wise idea to consult a physical therapist or an occupational therapist (depending on what you think will benefit you more).
Your doctor can give you a referral.
Through physical or occupational therapy, you can become stronger and more flexible in a safe way – by learning to move your body in a way that helps protect your joints.
Maintain a healthy weight
It is estimated that more than two-thirds of people with RA are overweight or obese.
It is possible to reduce complications and increase the chances of remission by maintaining a healthy weight. In some cases, extra weight can even make RA medications less effective.
The cycle of carrying extra weight and its effect on your RA looks something like this:
- Fat cells release cytokines
- Increased fat leads to increased cytokines
- Increased cytokines lead to increased inflammation
- Increased inflammation inflames your RA symptoms
Regardless of your rheumatoid arthritis, carrying extra weight puts additional pressure on your joints, impacting your ankles, knees, hips, lower back, spine and feet.
Therefore, RA patients should be more mindful of the effects of weight.
Keep stress levels low.
Keeping your stress levels low is important no matter your circumstances, especially when dealing with a condition like RA that can be stressful.
Some of the ways to keep your stress levels down may include:
- Make time for yourself to relax. This may include breathing exercises or just sitting down with a good book.
- Look into counselling options if you need help managing your high-stress levels
- Make sure you get enough sleep
- Consider learning yoga or meditation techniques
- Maintain close relationships with friends, family and co-workers, so you don't feel isolated or lonely
- Consider joining a support group – online or virtual
What support can I receive for my rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis can significantly impact a person's ability to work and quality of life.
However, when adequately supported, people with rheumatoid arthritis can lead full, active lives and enjoy their work/life balance!
Here at APM, rheumatoid arthritis is a supported condition for receiving help with obtaining and keeping employment.
This makes it possible for you to overcome the challenges of rheumatoid arthritis at work with the support available.
Find out how APM can support you to thrive in your current role or find a position that meets your needs by calling 1800 276 276.
For more information on rheumatoid arthritis in the workplace, check out our previous article, Good jobs for people with rheumatoid arthritis (and jobs to avoid).