Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms tend to come and go. Periods of severe flare-ups will be followed by periods when the symptoms are nearly gone. The main symptom is pain, and the major sign of the disease is tenderness in nearly all inflamed joints.

Many patients have issues with drug side effects of conventional treatment, or with the lack of effectiveness of these drugs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) periodically issues Warnings for many pharmaceuticals (see paragraph below Four RA drugs get stronger FDA Warning. This has driven patients in record numbers to alternative natural dietary supplements for relief of pain and other rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Complementary alternative medicine (CAM) including certain natural dietary supplements can be beneficial for patients living with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, according to a September 2005 National Institutes of Health (NIH) NCCAM Research publication.

My husband and I have successfully used natural supplements for relieving pain and controlling osteoarthritis symptoms. We're now free of pharmaceuticals of any kind.

GLA and fish oil supplements may relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

Some natural dietary supplements, such as gamma-linlenic acid (GLA) and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) have shown possibility of benefit for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, but further studies are needed to answer this question definitively, according to the NIH report.

However, the NIH research concluded the following CAM therapies have not been proven beneficial for R.A.: special diets, acupuncture, magnets, hydrotherapy, homeopathy or mind-body techniques.

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

According to the Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can begin suddenly, but they usually appear gradually. Rheumatoid arthritis can appear in any joint, but it most commonly begins in the smaller joints of the fingers, hands, wrist and toes.

Joint involvement is usually symmetrical, meaning that if a joint hurts on the left hand, the same joint will hurt on the right hand. In general, more joint erosion indicates more severe disease activity.

Other physical rheumatoid arthritis symptoms include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Stiffness in the morning or when sitting for long periods (the longer morning stiffness lasts, the more active your disease may be)
  • Flu-like symptoms, including a low-grade fever
  • Pain associated with prolonged sitting
  • The occurrence of flares of disease activity followed by remission or disease inactivity
  • Rheumatoid nodules, or lumps of tissue under the skin, appear in about 20% of people with RA. Typically found on the elbows, they can indicate more severe disease activity.
  • Muscle pain
  • Loss of appetite, depression, weight loss, anemia, cold and/or sweaty hands and feet
  • Involvement of the glands around the eyes and mouth, causing decreased production of tears and saliva (Sjogren’s Syndrome)

Advanced changes to look for include damage to cartilage, tendons, ligaments and bone, which causes deformity and instability in the joints. The damage can lead to limited range of motion, resulting in daily tasks (grasping a fork, combing hair, buttoning a shirt) becoming more difficult. You also may see skin ulcers and a general decline in health. People with severe RA are more susceptible to infection.

The effects of rheumatoid arthritis can vary from person to person. In fact, there is some growing belief that RA isn’t one disease, but it may be several different diseases that share commonalities.

Mayo Clinic study: RA patients in 2007 not living longer than 40 years ago

Despite a profusion of promising new treatments and an emphasis on getting diagnosed earlier, people with rheumatoid arthritis do not seem to be living any longer today that they were 40 years ago, according to a Mayo Clinic study in the November, 2007 issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism, a monthly journal of the American College of Rheumatology.

Within 10 years of being diagnosed with RA between 1995 and 2000, 29 percent of people in the Mayo clinic study had died. Only 24 percent of those diagnosed with RA between 1955 and 1964 died within 10 years of diagnosis.

“We found no evidence indicating that RA subjects experienced improvements in survival over the last four to five decades,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Sherine Gabriel, in a release.

“In fact, RA subjects did not even experience the same improvements in survival as their peers without arthritis, resulting in a worsening of the relative mortality in more recent years, and a widening of the mortality gap between RA subjects and the general population throughout time.”

The authors believe new therapeutic approaches in treating the disease over the last 40 years have not had a significant impact on extending the lifespan of people with RA.

Why isn’t the situation getting better? Researchers believe that people with RA are falling short of the typical 78 or so years of life expectancy because of their increased risk of heart disease.

Treatments for rheumtoid arthritis symptoms

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms must be tailored by the rheumatologist to the individual, taking into account the severity of arthritis and other factors, including lifestyle. Current treatment methods focus on relieving pain, reducing inflammation, stopping or slowing joint damage and improving functioning and sense of well-being.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, the main categories of drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are:

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)—These drugs are used to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. These include medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, indomethacin and COX-2 inhibitors such as valdecoxib and celecoxib.
  • Analgesic Drugs—These drugs relieve pain, but don’t necessarily have an effect on inflammation, a common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis. Examples of these medications are acetaminophen, propoxyphene, mepeidine and morphine.
  • Clucocorticoids or Prednisone—These are prescribed in low maintenance doses to slow joint damage caused by inflammation.
  • Disease Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDS)—These are used with NSAIDs and/or prednisone to slow joint destruction caused by RA over time. Examples of these drugs are methotrexate, injectable gold, penicillamine, azathioprine, chloroquine, hydoxychloroquine, sulfasalazine and oral gold.
  • Biologic Response Modifers (BRMs)—These drugs directly modify the immune system by inhibiting proteins, called cytokines, which contribute to inflammation. Examples of these are Enbrel (etanercept), Remicade (infliximab), Humira (adalimumab) and Kineret (anakinra).
  • Protein A Immunoadsorption Therapy—This is not a drug, but a therapy that filters blood to remove antibodies and immune complexes that promote inflammation.
  • Note: DMARDs, particularly methotrexate, have been the standard for aggressively treating RA. Doctors are now prescribing combination drug therapy consisting of DMARDs and BRMs for more aggressive treatment for controlling RA. Studies are continuing concerning dual drug treatments, and it appears that these combination drug therapies might become the new road to follow in treating RA. According to the Arthritis Foundation, the medications your doctor may suggest you combine with methotrexate are lefluonomide (Arava), etanercept (Enbrel), adalimumab (Humira) and infliximab (Remicade).

Four RA drugs get sronger FDA warning

Here's a cautionary development concerning three of the four drugs listed above.  On September 4, 2008 the FDA ordered stronger warnings on four medications widely used to treat rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and other serious illnesses, saying they can raise the risk of possibly fatal fungal infections.

The drugs—Enbrel, Remicade, Humira and Cimzia—work by suppressing the immune system, which leaves patients vulnerable to developing a fungal infection, which, if not treated, can be fatal. The drugs lower the body’s defenses to various kinds of infections. The fungal infection, histoplasmosis, mimics the flu.

The FDA's order means that the risk of histoplasmosis will be flagged in a "black box," the strongest warning information in a drug's prescribing literature. The four medications already have black box warnings about the risk of infections, but the language varies from drug to drug.

The four drugs, all administered by injection, are known as TNF-alpha blockers. Enbrel, Humira and Remicade are considered blockbuster drugs as each delivers annual sales over $1 billion. Cimzia is a more recent drug not used as frequently.

In addition to RA, they are also used to treat Crohn's disease, juvenile RA, certain types of psoriasis, and other conditions.

Alternative treatments and surgery for rheumatoid arthritis

In addition to your rheumatologist’s management of the disease with medications, a number of important maneuvers and adjunctive approaches can be employed for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, including assistive devices, diet, drug therapy, exercise, joint injections or aspiration, making lifestyle changes, managing pain, and physical rehabilitation.

If the entirety of medical approaches doesn’t control the symptoms, surgery may be needed. Available surgical procedures include:

  • Arthroscopic synovectomy
  • Arthroplasty, in which parts of the joint are replaced with artificial parts. This may e done if there is joint dmage that limits the movement of the joint.
  • Total joint replacement. This is typically done with the knee and the hip.

Why do some people with RA use dietary supplements?

These are some of the reasons people use dietary supplements for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms:

  • Issues with side effects of drug treatment
  • Because conventional treatment is not working as well as they would like
  • A wish for greater relief of symptoms and/or disability
  • A desire to reduce some of the stress that comes from living with a chronic illness and to cope better
  • A belief that alternative therapies are safer and more "natural"
  • Widespread advertising and attractive claims for many dietary supplement products.

Here are some of the types of supplements people try for RA (these are among those most frequently discussed in scientific literature and inquired about at the U.S. Government NIH NCCAM clearinghouse):

  • Preparations made from botanicals (plants and herbs)
  • Vitamins and minerals in unconventional amounts
  • Other products taken by mouth, such as fish oils, glucosamine hydrochloride
  • Preparations applied to the skin, such as pain relief creams or gels

Natural dietary supplements for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

When investing in dietary supplements, consider it first as an investment in your health. This way, you won’t want to waste your money on poorly formulated or synthetic supplements containing artificial colors, sweeteners, binders, fillers, etc. that will not be readily absorbed into your bloodstream.

Instead, you’ll want a high quality dietary supplement with ingredient purity, potency, and guaranteed efficacy that your body’s cells will happily absorb.

To help me find a top-tier manufacturer, I devised a list of 30 questions concerning standards of excellence that led my husband and I to the company referenced in the Landmark Study below. It’s the only one that we trust for nutritional supplementation.

There’s only one natural nutrition company (the Shaklee Corporation) that can claim a 20-year clinical landmark study on its consumers that verifies from blood samples that its supplement users retained normal levels of blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, C-reactive protein and homocysteine.

The 2006 study was conducted during the 50th anniversary year of the company's founding, in collaboration with researchers from the U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health, comparing people who took either no supplements or other brands of multivitamins. For details, go to:

Featured natural products for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

This industry-leading dietary supplement company has scientifically designed natural products targeted as remedies for people with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms or symptoms of other types of arthritis and pain disorders. As osteoarthritis sufferers, we’ve been very happy with their ability to relieve our arthritis symptoms.

While rheumatoid arthritis is an entirely different subject, your rheumatologist may feel the same ingredients in one or more of these six natural supplements may improve your flexibility of motion, swelling and stiffness while fighting RA inflammation.

More and more people today are choosing safer alternatives to treat joint pain due to arthritis and these products ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and help people lead a more comfortable life.

The bold links for the supplements listed below will take you with no obligation to the featured product pages for prices and additional information on each:

    Glucosamine & Boswellia Joint Relief

    Clinical studies indicate that glucosamine hydrochloride is most effective when rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are moderate to severe. Glucosamine has the ability to rebuild cartilage for joint health and comfortable movement. Formulated with the addition of clinically proven boswellia herb, this product is clinically proven to provides faster relief in as little as one week as it lubricates and cushions joints to provide enhanced mobility and range of motion.

    Boswellia and Safflower Oil Pain Relief

    When the boswellia herb and oil from the safflower are used in combination, it creates a potent, natural arthritis pain relief supplement without gastrointestinal side effects. In studies, these two ingredients together are more effective when combined, that they are separately. Boswellia extract is a very potent 5 Lox inhibitor. The safflower extract contains a potent ingredient that is a very selective Cox 2 inhibitor. Therefore, this product is effective against both the 5 Lox and Cox 2 pain pathways--both of the major pathways--which is the only product on the market of its kind. Its formulation and synergy is so unique that there's a patent on this supplement.

    Menthol Pain Relief Rub

    This topical menthol analgesic provides temporary relief (up to four hours) for minor pain associated with backache, arthritis, bruises and sprains. It offers fast absorption and deep penetration to soothe aching joints and muscles on contact. In addition to menthol, it contains a proprietary blend of natural ingredients that targets the source of discomfort and provides quick relief by improving blood circulation in the affected area.

    Fish Oil (EPA) - (Essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids)

    This best fish oil supplement provides a full spectrum of seven ultrapure omega-3 fatty acids, naturally found in cold water fish (tuna, mackerel, halibut, cod, salmon). High in DHA and EPA, it supports joint function due to its anti-inflammatory properties and is easy to digest with low odor and no aftertaste. It also helps to maintain a healthy heart and cardiovascular system.

    GLA and Vitamin E Complex

    Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) from borage seed oil is used as an anti-inflammatory. GLA helps our bodies form prostaglandins - potent hormone-like substances that help regulate many bodily processes. When combined with Vitamin E and sunflower seed oil, the formula helps maintain cellular integrity.

    Valerian, Passion Flower and Chamomile Sleep Aid

    As a natural alternative, valerian root side effects are few, and minor by comparison to pharmaceutical drugs. In fact for an insomnia remedy it has good tolerability. Most studies suggest that it’s more effective when used continuously rather than as a one-night sleep aid. However many individuals successfully use it on a need-only basis. An advantage of valerian over drugs is the lack of sleepiness on awakening when used at recommended dosages. This supplement also contains a complementary blend of two additional herbs, chamomile and passion flower. Together, they provide a calm state and promotes restful sleep.

We refer to the first three products above as The Shaklee Pain Trio (scroll linked page for My Arthritis Story)

I am happy to highly recommend all of these very effective products as a safe, natural remedy for joint disorders and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Other rheumatoid arthritis links on this site include Rheumatoid Arthritis Facts, What is RA?, Natural RA Pain Relief, and Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms Disclaimer: Health statements on this rheumatoid arthritis symptoms page have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Shaklee About Us.  What has driven the Shaklee Difference since the beginning is a scientific approach to unlocking nature's secrets.  They strive to discover ingredients and create formulas that support health, some of which have been true breakthroughs.  They are committed to continually assessing ways to provide innovative and scientifically validated products.

Beyond Organic   This is the Shaklee philosophy that their quality standards go beyond how and where an ingredient is grown.  They look to confirm the purity and potency of ingredients AFTER harvest to guarantee that the final finished product is free of hundreds of chemical contaminants. Safety is their highest concern.  Their manufacturing practices guarantees the highest standards of safety.

Herbal Pain Relief. In the last twenty years in the United States, the public has become increasingly dissatisfied with the cost and side effect risks of prescription medications. This, combined with an interest in returning to natural or organic remedies, has lifted herbal supplements and alternative medicines to higher popularity in the United States than ever before for treatment of arthritis pain. 

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