Picture this - you’re on a battlefield and you are overlooking a cliff with a confused army dazed and running around fighting each other without any opponents in certain parts around the field. That’s exactly what autoimmune diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis do to you.
Typically, your body is supposed to help you fight disease and protect your cells from harm. But when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), what ends up happening is that your body mistakes healthy cells for infected ones and attacks them instead.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune degenerative disease that affects at least 1.5 million people in the United States alone. The illness takes a toll on your entire body and impacts daily functioning. The disease is incurable, but it can be managed with active efforts taken to control the spread and effects of the illness.
It attacks the membranes around the joints, causing them to get inflamed. The weapons they (we’re going back to the confused army reference here) use are enzymes that are released in the joints causing them to weaken and slowly disintegrate, resulting in endless pain and suffering. The onset of rheumatoid arthritis is most common in people between the ages of 30 and 50, and the effects go beyond just bone health issues like osteoarthritis. It ends up affecting your entire system and it can make it very painful to perform daily tasks.
Yes, it can get pretty morbid.
But it’s not all bleak! Once you understand more about the illness and how it affects you, take good care of yourself and consult with your doctors and physiotherapists, it is a manageable disease.
How does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect Your Body?
Since it is a progressive disease, it can end up affecting more than just your joints. The early signs of the disease start with the inflammation of smaller joints which are around your hands and your feet. Early morning stiffness, swelling, and pain are common symptoms because you haven’t been able to use your hands and feet while you were resting. These symptoms will come and go with time but, ideally, you get them checked before they worsen. The waiting period for this stage is usually between 4 to 6 weeks.
Over time, as rheumatoid arthritis progresses, it can affect the way your blood circulates around your body, leading to inflammation around the heart, blocked arteries, and more. You may also experience lumps around your body in your skin, eyes, and mouth, and can lead to Sjogren’s syndrome, which is another autoimmune disease-causing extreme dryness and sensitivity in your eyes and throat. It can also cause inflammation in your lungs and lead to blocked airways and increase the blood pressure in your lungs.
The most common side effect or comorbid disease that comes with rheumatoid arthritis is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a lot more commonly found than rheumatoid arthritis, affecting over 50 million people in the United States alone. It is an illness that is caused by low bone mass, resulting in weakened and brittle bones that can break and fracture easily. People with rheumatoid arthritis have a 30% higher risk of getting fractures due to osteoporosis than people without.
Before you work yourself into a panic, keep in mind that these effects don’t all happen to everybody. They depend on the level of severity, your genetic makeup, your hormones, and a whole number of other environmental factors.
Who is the Most Susceptible to Getting the Disease?
The most commonly found age group of people who get diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis is between the ages of 30 and 50, but it can affect younger people and children too. Women are three times more likely to develop this disease than men primarily due to the bone structure and the estrogen levels. This is why postmenopausal women are at a much higher risk for developing bone-health conditions than men.
Obesity and being overweight are also a couple of factors that increase your chances of getting the disease. Excess weight causes more strain around the joints, which can cause inflammation and increase the risk of getting RA.
So what can you do? Are there any ways you can make it better that aren’t simply medication?
The answer is yes! Most people with rheumatoid arthritis function normally and participate in daily activities - the answer lies with how you take care of yourself once you are diagnosed with the disease.
How to Take Care of Yourself
The steps to self-care when you have rheumatoid arthritis are pretty simple and straightforward - you have to maintain an active lifestyle, avoid putting too much strain on your joints and take your supplements. Also keep a healthy diet - you know, practice general upkeep and maintenance habits for your body.
Here are some tips to help you manage the disease a little bit better to reduce the pain and inflammation.
- Maintain your relationship with your doctors. Do not miss your regular appointments and stay in touch with them in case you feel like your symptoms are worsening.
- Keep taking the medicines that are prescribed as per their dosage. Avoid skipping doses.
- Your diet should be rich in calcium and vitamin D to improve the bone health of your body. Take whatever supplements are necessary and enrich your diet with calcium-rich foods to increase the calcium levels in your body. Vitamin D is crucial for this step because it helps the minerals get absorbed in your body.
- Keep getting your bone density checked regularly to monitor your bone health.
- Avoid smoking because it has a negative impact on your bone health.
- Exercise! There are many forms of exercise that you can do that keep your bones and the muscles around your bones strong to prevent further damage. Lack of exercise can increase the stiffness in and around your joints and further aggravate your condition and discomfort.
There are many forms of exercise that you can do that aren’t too strenuous on your joints. You have to be careful of what you do to exercise as well. Use proper equipment and if you are going to a gym, work with someone experienced in helping people with the condition.
If you are more inclined to exercise from your home, there are lots of tricks that can help you get your daily mobility and workout done that don’t require you to do gentle aerobics and extensive yoga (although they are great for your bones and muscles).
One of which is… you guessed it right; cleaning!
Your chores can actually help you feel and do better when you have rheumatoid arthritis. Normal, day-to-day household tasks can give you all the exercise you need for your sore joints and muscles and help alleviate the pain.
The Hidden Boon of Cleaning and its Benefits for Rheumatoid Arthritis
We’re not saying scraping the dirt off the gutters from the roof of your house is going to help with your joint aches and pains. No, they will make your condition a whole lot worse. By cleaning we don’t mean a heavy load of laundry, washing your entire floor by hand, or scrubbing every nook and cranny of your house. We mean using cleaning routines and products to help you get that exercise in so you don’t have to go out of your way to
- Hire extra help that will cost you a fortune
- Join a number of extra classes to keep up with your recommended exercise requirements
Cleaning is always a pain for most people, but for those with rheumatoid arthritis, it is quite literally a pain. But you can make it work for you and still manage to complete your tasks, keep a healthy body and a clean house by the end of it - only if you do it right. You just have to be careful about what you set out to do and your approach to doing it.
Keep this in mind:
Always consult your doctor before you start any intensive tasks or routines, especially if you think they might strain your body. You have to be careful with yourself or else you risk worsening your condition or adding another injury. So whatever you might do, consult with your physiotherapist and doctor and get their approval before you begin. This is just a guide to help you but by no means are we aware of the severity of your condition or how mobile you are. So, please, just speak to your doctor before you do anything.
Set realistic cleaning goals for yourself
You cannot move a mountain (and you shouldn’t, your joints won’t be able to take it) and you should not attempt to do it with your household chores as well. You have to face the fact that you might not be able to do everything around the house, especially not at once. Don’t let this dishearten you, but let it guide you to make a realistic plan to help you get your cleaning goals in order.
Once you have a realistic idea of what you want to do and what you can do, you will be able to assign yourself tasks that you can complete in short spurts throughout the day. This will help you keep your joints and muscles active, make sure you don’t overwork yourself, and help you get your chores done.
Always speak to your doctor and see what the recommended amount of daily exercise you need to do is, and plan accordingly. Break down a task into smaller, more manageable sections that you can tackle throughout the day or over a series of days and get it done. Getting your house clean and things in order feels fantastic when it’s done, even if it takes you a little longer than it used to.
Invest in arthritis-friendly cleaning tools and products
Consumer gadgets have become more friendly and adaptable to the needs and requirements of those with special needs or disabilities. Since rheumatoid arthritis affects your motor functioning skills, you can use some of the tools available to make your life easier. There are so many adapted mops and brooms to help make sweeping and mopping the floor easier for those who experience regular pain.
And of course, there are tools by iRobot that help people with arthritis by doing the cleaning for them. It’s simple, easy to use, and hassle-free.
Using a dishwasher is also quite the pain because the dishes that go into the dishwasher need to be cleaned beforehand, the dishwasher needs to be cleaned regularly, and you still have to clean a lot of appliances by hand regardless. Tools like Skadu, a hand-held electric scrubber, can make doing the dishes a lot easier. It takes care of the motion and pressure of scrubbing dishes, utensils, appliances, and various other surfaces for you. So all you have to do is hold the extremely light, extremely able device and let it do its thing.
There are also seats with a spring feature that makes getting out of chairs easier, smart vegetable peelers, specially designed knives, jar openers (yes, it’s a blessing), scissors, and more. These tools are used so often around the house that people with rheumatoid arthritis might find it difficult to adjust to life without them. So consumer gadgets and technology had to adapt these common household appliances and tools to make them easier to use for all.
And hey, everyone could do with a little extra help opening that jar of pickle, right?
Do not overexert yourself
Here is another reminder for you to ease into doing your household chores around the house. Don’t start everything at one go and overexert or strain yourself. It will definitely result in more stiffness, swelling, and pain, and might even make your condition worse with time. It might be exciting for you to start doing everyday tasks like never before again, but be careful of straining yourself and getting yourself injured.
Be mindful of your pain when you’re accomplishing these tasks
Don’t forget about yourself and get lost in the task. Keep a check on how you’re feeling, how much pressure you are putting on your limbs and joints, and if you feel like it’s starting to hurt or it’s getting worse, please stop. The task will be there for you to complete tomorrow as well, your chores are never leaving you (we all wish they did though). So don’t feel like you haven’t accomplished enough and force yourself to continue when your body is clearly indicating to you that you are done with it.
Keep doing it
Of course, you have to continue. You cannot stop yourself from living your life because you have an autoimmune disease. Yes, life with rheumatoid arthritis can become difficult and complex, and there are a lot of considerations you need to take before you do anything, but that doesn’t mean you stop.
This goes beyond just cleaning around the house and maintaining hygiene. Everyone has bad days, and people with chronic illnesses are more prone to them than the rest. But take your time, rest, recover and then get back to it. There are more chances of you feeling better once you do it, even if you have to start a hundred times than to not do anything at all and sit in your slump.
Don’t let rheumatoid arthritis ‘run’ your life (get it? Because it becomes difficult to run with swollen joints around your ankles?). Run it yourself!