Medication. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, and biologic agents can ease inflammation and pain and slow joint damage. Your rheumatologist will recommend the medicines that are best for you.
Food. “Some patients feel that certain foods can trigger inflammation and will avoid these foods religiously,” Koval says. Foods that may cause inflammation include:
- Refined carbohydrates such as white bread and other baked goods
- Fried foods
- Sugar-sweetened drinks
- Red and processed meats
- Margarine, shortening, and lard
Meanwhile, some foods help fight inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet should include:
Exercise. Research shows that when you have arthritis, exercise eases pain, improves function, and slows disability. Adults with arthritis should try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week.
Stop smoking. Smoking cigarettes can make RA worse, as well as causing other health problems. It can also make it harder for you to stay active. If you’re having trouble quitting smoking on your own, ask your doctor, or get help with a stop-smoking program.
Lower stress. Cutting out stress in your life can have a huge impact on inflammation. Try methods like deep breathing, guided imagery (focused relaxation that harmonizes the mind and body), and muscle relaxation.
Supplements. Some research shows that fish oil supplements and the oils from evening primrose, borage, and black currant plants can lower RA pain and stiffness, but more study is needed. These supplements may have side effects and interfere with medications, so check with your doctor before taking them.
“In the end, the best way to reduce inflammation is to work with your rheumatologist and get on an appropriate treatment and medication plan,” Koval says. When you partner with your doctor to find a treatment that works well, RA can go into remission.
In the 20 years since his RA diagnosis, Wohlfarth, who’s now writing a book about living with a chronic condition, has made many changes to soothe his inflamed joints. He limits stress, has a less physically demanding job, and avoids dairy because it seemed to make him feel worse. But he’s improved his RA symptoms the most by regularly taking his medication, something he admits he had trouble with at first.
“I’d get on medicine, feel better, and then stop taking it. But then I’d get five times worse,” he says. “Don’t pretend your disease has gone away. Listen to your body and take it seriously. It’s something you have to manage your whole life.”