Lifestyle changes can't cure rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but can help manage the condition, and decrease discomfort and disability. It's important to find a balance to maintain as much of a normal life as possible.
If you smoke, continuing to do so will aggravate RA symptoms. Smoking triggers inflammatory processes that affect every cell in the body. If you have RA, quitting smoking will have immediate positive effects on your overall health. Talk with your doctor about how you can successfully quit.
A healthful diet is important for overall well-being and maintaining a healthy weight. Be sure to get adequate amounts of calories, protein, and calcium. In general, eat less saturated and more mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Increase intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Excess weight can put extra stress on your joints. If you are overweight, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about dietary options.
There are no specific foods that cause flare-ups or increase the progression of RA. However, omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the inflammation associated with RA. Omega-3 is found in fatty fish and certain plant seed oils. Although it is also available in supplement form, a doctor or pharmacist should be consulted before supplements are taken.
Alcohol can interact with some RA medications, such as methotrexate. If alcohol is permitted, drink in moderation. Moderation is a maximum of 2 drinks per day for men and a maximum of 1 drink per day for women.
Keep in mind that periods of rest may be necessary during times when symptoms flare up, but complete bed rest is not recommended. Reasonable physical activity can help improve mobility and flexibility. Immobility can make your joints worse.
Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Exercise programs can be tailored to be protective of the joints that are affected by RA. To make the most of exercises, an exercise physiologist or physical therapist will help design a safe, effective program.
It is very common to experience mood changes, especially within the first few months of a new diagnosis or during RA flares. Depression can undermine your recovery and put you at risk for more serious health complications. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in your favorite activities that stay with you for at least 2 weeks should prompt a call to your doctor. There are several treatment options available, such as medicine and/or counseling.
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Rheumatoid arthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp. Updated February 2016. Accessed November 29, 2016.
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Sex and arthritis. American College of Rheumatology website. Available at: http://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Living-Well-with-Rheumatic-Disease/Sex-Arthritis. Updated April 2015. Accessed November 29, 2016.
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Last reviewed November 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 10/16/2019