Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, that makes the body attack its own tissues, especially in the joints. Over time, the joints become stiff and swollen, making them extremely painful. Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term disease, often starting in the smaller joints of the body.
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common chronic inflammatory diseases. It progresses slowly and can lead to permanent joint damage. Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by periods of extreme pain followed by periods of abatements. There are, however, no known reasons that can be attributed as the cause for this disease. The body’s immune system simply goes awry and begins attacking the synovium, which is a thin tissue that lines our joints. As the diseases progresses, it begins affecting different organs in our body and can also cause joint deformity and bone erosion.
While there is no 100% cure for rheumatoid arthritis, over the years, rheumatoid arthritis treatment in Ayurveda has provided the patients with a lot of help in managing their symptoms.
Risk Factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Even though there is no fixed cause for rheumatoid arthritis, there are, however, certain risk factors that increases the chances of getting the disease. These risk factors are:
Age: Even though rheumatoid arthritis can affect anyone at any age, the chances of someone getting it increases with age.
Gender: Women are more likely to get rheumatoid arthritis than men.
Family history: If someone in the family has or has had rheumatoid arthritis, then the chances of their close relatives getting the disease is high.
Obesity: Obesity has been connected with rheumatoid arthritis, especially for people under the age of 55.
Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis significantly, especially, if the person is genetically predisposed to getting the disease.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis affects different people differently. Some people may lead a relatively comfortable life with very few symptoms, while others may suffer from frequent flare-ups with persistent pain.
Some of the common symptoms, most patients with rheumatoid arthritis suffer from are:
- Stiffness: Since this disease affects the tissue in the joint, over time, the joints become stiff and harder to move. This is especially common in the mornings. For people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, it can sometimes take several hours before their joints loosen.
- Swelling: Inflammation and swelling is a common side effect of rheumatoid arthritis. The build-up of fluid in the joints causes this swelling. Swelling can most often be seen in the following areas: hands, wrists, ankle, hips, elbows, feet, neck.
- Joint pain: The inflammation of the joints causes extreme pain for the patient. Even if the person is not moving, they suffer from persistent joint pain.
- Loss of movement: Rheumatoid arthritis can cause joint destruction which in turn can lead to complete or partial loss of movement. In many cases RA can cause deformity of limbs which makes movement difficult.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Stages
Rheumatoid arthritis progresses in four stages. They are:
Stage 1: This is the earliest stage and the patient may not have many symptoms. Patients may feel joint pain and stiffness, especially in the morning. These symptoms, at this stage, may come and go and hence, it’s difficult to detect the disease at this stage. At this stage, the joints are not yet damaged, but the joint lining has started to get inflamed.
Stage 2: During this stage the inflammation of the joint lining, also known as the synovium, has started destroying the joint cartilage. This will eventually lead to complete destruction of the cartilage. In some cases, the patient may also develop lumps in their elbows. These lumps are known as rheumatoid nodules.
Stage 3: By this stage, the disease has become more severe and the symptoms are more prominent. The patient will experience extreme pain and inflammation. There will be loss of mobility and some amount of deformity will be evident.
Stage 4: This stage is also known as end-stage RA and by now the joints have completely been destroyed and no longer work. The bones get fused together and there may be complete loss of mobility.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare-ups
Flare-ups are periods when there is increased activity of the disease, which causes the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis to become more severe. Symptoms such as joint pain, inflammation, stiffness etc. become more pronounced during this time. Flare-ups are unpredictable and can be caused by any number of reasons: poor sleep, exhaustion, exertion, stress or the onset of an infection.
Flare-ups can last for days, and sometimes even months. However, in many cases flare-ups disappear after a brief period of time. Repetitive episodes of flare-ups may require the doctor to adjust the patient’s medications.
The period during which the patient suffers minimal or no pain (in between the flare-ups) is known as remission. During periods of remissions, patients feel good enough to get some work done and they should also try to include some amount of light exercising in this period. Exercising, stretching, getting enough rest and eating a balanced diet can help manage the symptoms of RA.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Complications
Rheumatoid arthritis is usually accompanied with the following complications:
- Rheumatoid Nodules: lumps which grow usually around the elbow, but can also be found in other organs, such as the lung.
- Rheumatoid Vasculitis: inflamed blood vessels, usually occurring for patients who are suffering from RA for a longer period of time.
- Osteoporosis: people suffering from RA are susceptible to osteoporosis, a condition which weakens the bones. This can lead to increased fractures.
- Pericarditis: inflammation of the membrane which surrounds the heart. This usually happens during periods of flare-ups among patients.
- Anaemia: RA can sometimes cause a reduction in the production of red blood cells. This can lead to anaemia.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: this syndrome affects the wrist and causes inflammation, pain and reduced mobility of the hand.
- Sjogren’s Syndrome: this syndrome causes dry eyes and mouth, since it reduces the amount of moistness in the eyes and mouth.
- Lung Problems: RA can cause inflammation of the lungs, which can lead to issues such as painful breathing. Rheumatoid nodules in the lungs can cause collapsed lungs, infections, fluid build-up between the lining of the lungs and the chest cavity.
- Lymphoma: RA increases the chances of lymphoma, which is a type of blood cancer.
RA Treatment in Ayurveda
While there is no treatment to completely cure rheumatoid arthritis, Ayurvedic treatment has been known to help manage the symptoms successfully and allow the patients to lead a more comfortable life. Ayurveda can also help control the progression of the disease.
Depending on the patient’s condition, one of the several Ayurvedic treatment therapies can be used. Ayurvedic treatment helps in removing toxics from the body, releasing stress, vayu dosha, digestion problems, muscles strengthening, stiffed or swollen joints, painful joints, mobility of joints, fever, headache and obesity.
Ayurveda therapies include:
- Kizhi (Bundle massage): A heated cloth bag filled with medicinal herbs is used for improving the strength of muscles and relieving body pain.
- Shirodhara: This therapy helps in relieving stress, rejuvenating the body and help the body achieve a deep state of rest. Meditation aids this therapy.
- Abhyangam: This therapy includes full body massage, which helps in healing and detoxifying the body, mind and spirit. Herbs infused in warm oil is used for these massages.
- Kashaya vasti: It improves the constipation, swelling, chronic fever, hyperacidity, gout, heart pain and detoxifies the body.
There are several such therapies and medications in Ayurveda which can bring immense relief to the patients and help reduce the occurrences of flare-ups.
Ayurveda can provide long-term relief from rheumatoid arthritis, provided the treatment is carried out in a reputable and authentic ayurvedic hospital.