What is Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joint tissue, causing inflammation. In the early stages of RA, inflammation starts out silent but eventually may lead to painful swelling, erosion of the bone and deformation and shifting of the joint. This level of inflammation can be subtle for years, even decades, before the patient or their doctor even becomes aware of it. Over time, if left untreated, the disease will lead to tissue destruction, extreme pain, and immobility.
Symptoms of RA start in the smaller joints of the hands and feet and then move to larger joints like knees, wrists, hips and shoulders. We normally see a ‘bilateral’ presentation, in which both sides of the body are affected rather evenly. On occasion, in early stages, we will see one side affected more than the other, usually the patient’s dominant side.
Common symptoms include: swelling and warming of the joints, joint stiffness, numbness, and tingling. RA can also affect other organ systems. If this occurs, the patient will experience additional, more systemic symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite. As the disorder progresses, it can impact nerve tissue, kidneys, eyes, skin, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and other areas of the body, not necessarily directly associated with the joints. Stiffness, pain, and discomfort often occur worse in the morning and can show up in increased severity, called flares. Stress and anxiety are also known to worsen symptoms.
Testing for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Thankfully, we have developed a number of simple blood tests to not only diagnose active RA, but also predict the possibility of its occurrence later in life. Blood markers to discuss with your doctor are as follows: Antinuclear Antibody (ANA), RA Latex, and Anti-CCP Antibody (anti–cyclic citrullinated peptide).
Additional lab testing is not specific to RA, but can be powerful during those stages where clear identifying markers are not yet apparent, especially when it is combined with thorough medical history analysis and exam. The blood labs listed below are associated with inflammation and the immune system; even if RA is not a concern, if one of these is out of range it could clue us into something else that might be happening.
- ESR or Sedimentation Rate or “Sed Rate”
- C-Reactive Protein- High Sensitivity (hs-CRP)
- Complement C3/4
These markers are not terribly expensive and for those with a family history of autoimmune disease, especially RA, these labs should be tested on a semi-routine basis to catch signs and symptoms early.
Acupuncture for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Acupuncture is a type of Chinese medicine that uses very thin needles, inserted into trigger points along energy channels in the body, with the purpose of encouraging emotional and physiological rebalance. It is one of the oldest forms of medicine continuously practiced around the world and is used as an additional form of treatment and management for a large array of disorders. Because of its proven efficacy and deeply healing benefits, it can be very impactful for people who suffer from chronic conditions that disrupt daily living and quality of life.
Upon the insertion of an Acupuncture needle into the body, a series of physiological mechanisms are triggered. Signals travel along the spinal cord to the brain causing a reduction in inflammation, improvement in blood flow, stimulation of nerve fibers, and relaxation of the body. Needle insertion releases specific neurotransmitters (endorphins, enkephalin) that act as the body’s natural painkillers. It also induces cortisol production, which is the hormone that helps control inflammation in the body. Research also shows that Acupuncture assists the body to heal by regulating immune function – producing both anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are many benefits to receiving Acupuncture sessions with regularity. With the stimulation of endorphins and oxytocin, patients have an improved sense of well-being, improved sleep, pain relief, and decreased stress.
The consensus is that Acupuncture can improve function and quality of life in those living with RA by reducing stress, pain, and inflammation; restoring physiological balance, inducing antioxidant effects, and regulating immune system function. Treatment is most effective when combined with healthy lifestyle choices, including a focused diet that avoids sugars and inflammatory foods, supplementation that supports nutrient absorption and detox, hydration to support proper body system functioning, and regular movement that promotes joint mobility and tissue health.
(Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. Apr-Jun 2011;24(2):357-66.)
At Gateway Natural Medicine, our team combines functional diagnostics, intentional use of quality supplements, dietary recommendations, and various therapies – such as Class IV laser therapy, chiropractic adjustments, myofascial release techniques, biopuncture, and acupuncture – in order to aid healing and full support of the body. A focus on targeting the root of the disease, rather than just the symptoms, leads to a more complete and sustainable treatment and management of chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
If you have questions or want to schedule a free 15 minute consultation with one of our practitioners to see if this would be a good option for your Rheumatoid Arthritis (or other chronic conditions) please call (970) 532-2755 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.