What not to do with rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that primarily affects the joints. In the UK, it’s estimated that over 400,000 people suffer from this condition. While there are many ways to manage and treat RA effectively, it’s just as vital to know what to avoid. Making the wrong choices can exacerbate symptoms or hinder treatment effectiveness.

Common Mistakes with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Before diving into specific actions to avoid, it’s essential to understand the broader context of the most common mistakes made by individuals with RA:

1. Neglecting Medical Advice

Many patients, driven by desperation or misinformation, sometimes ignore medical recommendations. This neglect can lead to worsening symptoms or additional health issues.

“The foundation of managing RA effectively lies in a collaborative relationship between the patient and their medical professional.”

2. Avoiding Physical Activity

While it might seem counterintuitive, avoiding physical activity can do more harm than good. Regular, low-impact exercise can help manage symptoms and improve joint function.

3. Not Prioritising Mental Health

RA is not just a physical challenge. The emotional and psychological toll can be significant. Neglecting mental well-being can exacerbate RA symptoms and reduce the effectiveness of treatments.

What happens if RA is left untreated?

If Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is left untreated, it can result in severe complications and a significantly reduced quality of life for the affected individual. RA is a progressive disease, which means it tends to worsen over time. Here’s a breakdown of what can happen when RA is not managed or treated:

  1. Joint Damage and Deformities: The primary characteristic of RA is joint inflammation. Over time, this inflammation can lead to the erosion of joint tissues. This damage can result in joint deformities, which are not only painful but can also cause the affected joints to lose their function.
  2. Reduced Mobility: As joints become more damaged, they can become stiff and painful, limiting the person’s mobility and making daily activities challenging.
  3. Increased Pain: Untreated inflammation from RA can lead to increasing pain over time. This pain can become chronic and may not be limited to the joints, as inflammation can affect other parts of the body.
  4. Osteoporosis: Individuals with RA have an increased risk of osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones and makes them more prone to fractures. Inflammation from untreated RA can accelerate bone density loss.
  5. Complications in Organs: RA doesn’t just affect joints. Over time, it can impact various organs, including:
    • Lungs: Leading to conditions like interstitial lung disease or pulmonary fibrosis.
    • Heart: RA can increase the risk of atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), which can lead to heart attacks.
    • Eyes: Conditions such as scleritis and episcleritis can arise from RA.
  6. Increased Risk of Infections: The disease itself and some of its treatments can weaken the immune system, making the individual more susceptible to infections.
  7. Rheumatoid Nodules: Some people with untreated RA may develop firm lumps under the skin, especially around affected joints. These nodules can be painful and may require surgical removal.
  8. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Inflammation can compress the nerves serving the hands and fingers, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hands and fingers.
  9. Vasculitis: In severe cases, RA can cause blood vessel inflammation, a condition known as vasculitis. This can lead to damage in many organs, including the skin, nerves, and internal organs.
  10. Reduced Life Expectancy: Severe untreated RA can lead to complications that can reduce life expectancy. For instance, the increased risk of cardiovascular disease is a significant concern for RA patients.
  11. Mental Health Effects: Living with the pain and mobility limitations of untreated RA can have profound effects on mental health, leading to depression and anxiety.
  12. Economic and Social Impact: The limitations posed by untreated RA can lead to challenges in employment, leading to financial hardships. Moreover, the affected individual might increasingly withdraw from social engagements due to pain and limited mobility.

Given these potential complications, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment of RA are crucial. If someone suspects they have RA or is diagnosed with the condition, they should seek medical advice and appropriate care immediately to manage the disease effectively and reduce the risk of these complications.

Delving Deeper: Actions to Avoid

Over-relying on Medications

While medications play a crucial role in managing RA, solely relying on them without incorporating lifestyle changes can be detrimental. Long-term use of certain drugs, without proper monitoring, can lead to side effects or reduced efficacy.

Consuming Inflammatory Foods

Diet plays a crucial role in managing RA. Consuming foods that promote inflammation can worsen symptoms. Some of these foods include:

  • Processed foods
  • Fried foods
  • Refined sugars
  • Dairy products (for some people)

Ignoring Early Signs

“Paying attention to early warning signs can be the key to preventing more severe flare-ups.”

Ignoring or dismissing subtle signs of a flare-up can lead to more severe pain or damage. Early intervention can prevent long-term complications.

Not Taking Care of Joint Health

It’s essential to protect your joints to prevent additional stress. This includes avoiding excessive repetitive motions and using joint-friendly tools and aids.

Isolating Oneself

RA can feel isolating. However, withdrawing from social connections can lead to emotional and mental strain. Support groups, either in-person or online, can offer valuable emotional support and practical advice.

The Importance of Holistic Management

Rheumatoid arthritis is a multi-faceted condition that requires a comprehensive approach to management. Avoiding certain actions and behaviours is just as critical as following medical advice and making positive lifestyle changes.

Physical Health and RA

Engaging in physical therapies, using supportive aids, and maintaining a healthy weight can alleviate some of the physical stresses of RA. Here’s a table showcasing some recommended activities and their benefits:

Activity Benefit
Swimming Low-impact exercise that improves joint flexibility without straining them
Physical Therapy Customised exercises to improve joint function and reduce pain
Yoga Improves flexibility and mental well-being

Mental Health and RA

Just as physical health is crucial, mental well-being plays a significant role in managing RA. Regularly checking in with one’s emotional state, seeking therapy or counselling, and staying connected with loved ones can make a world of difference.


Rheumatoid arthritis is a challenging condition, but with the right knowledge and approach, one can lead a fulfilling life. By being aware of common pitfalls and mistakes, individuals with RA can take proactive steps to manage their condition better. Remember, it’s not just about what to do, but also what not to do.

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