6 Steps to Recover from Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects over 1.5 million adults. This condition can affect anyone, but it most often affects women between the ages of 40 and 60 years old.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the body begins attacking the joints, mistaking them as foreign invaders. The body attacks the thin membrane surrounding joints, allowing fluid and immune complexes to build up in the joints and cause significant pain. Normally these immune complexes filter out of your blood on their own, but when there is a build-up, they tend to settle into different joints and cause local inflammation and tissue damage. When these immune complexes build up in the joints, they can cause pain and swelling characteristic of RA.

Typically, RA starts in the small joints such as hands, fingers, and toes. It progresses to larger joints like the wrists, ankles, knees, and hips. The pain and swelling is usually on both sides of the body or in bi-lateral joints.

If someone in your family has RA or any autoimmune disease, then you are more likely to develop RA in your lifetime. If you have already been diagnosed with RA, then you are three times more likely to develop a second autoimmune condition. Additionally, studies using identical twins found that genetics only account for 25% and environmental factors account for 75% of autoimmune conditions.

How is it diagnosed?

The diagnosis is based on a combination of symptoms, physical exam, and blood tests. Typically, your doctor will order the following blood test to look for signs of inflammation as well as autoimmunity. An x-ray of the affected joint or joints may also be ordered.

  • Anti-nuclear antibody (ANA)

  • Rheumatoid factor (RF)

  • Anti-citrullinated peptide/protein antibodies (anti-CCP)

  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)

  • High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (Cardio CRP)

Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Symptoms and severity of rheumatoid arthritis can vary from person to person, but common signs include:

  1. Joint pain, swelling, tenderness, stiffness, and deformity in the joints or fingers

  2. Fatigue

  3. Unintentional weight loss

  4. Nodules or stiff bumps under the skin

  5. Frequent urinary tract infections

  6. Fever

Conventional treatment for rheumatoid arthritis

Conventional medicine is focused on managing the symptoms of RA rather than finding the root cause. For this reason, treatment is based solely on medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen are used as the first line of treatment. Once NSAIDs no longer alleviate symptoms, then steroids such as Prednisone are prescribed. If the steroids top controlling the symptoms, then a host of other harsh medications are prescribed that either modulate or suppress the immune system as a whole. Methotrexate, Plaquenil, Imuran, Enbrel and Remicade are some of the drugs used, and they have very harsh side effects including liver damage, bone marrow suppression and increased susceptibility to infections. When I was an ER resident working in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), I took care of a young woman in her 20’s with RA. She came into the ICU with liver failure and nearly died after taking Remicade. Thankfully, she received a liver transplant and survived.

In order to truly solve the problem and stop your immune system from attacking your joints, you must take a functional medicine approach and find the underlying cause of the imbalance.

5 Underlying Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you suspect that you have an RA, the most important steps to stopping and reversing your disease are to identify and then to treat the underlying cause. Conventional doctors only treat the symptoms of autoimmune diseases; they don’t look to find the root cause.

1. Gluten

Gluten is a huge problem for most people these days because we hybridized it, modified it, and it’s in everything! Worst of all, it can wreak havoc on your gut and set you up for a leaky gut. Once the gut is leaky, gluten can get into your bloodstream and confuse your immune system. Since the building blocks of gluten share a similar molecular structure with building blocks of many other tissues in your body, the immune system can get confused and accidentally attack your joints and other organs. This process is called molecular mimicry.