Autoimmunity and Arthritis

Autoimmunity and Arthritis

To fight off colds and infections we need a strong immune system. You might think of it like a guard dog protecting your house. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong and that guard dog bites it’s owner. This is what happens in autoimmune conditions. The immune system mistakenly attacks a part of your own body. Autoimmune arthritis occurs when the joints are attacked. You may have heard of rheumatoid arthritis or RA which often attacks the hands and wrists and affects 1.5 million Americans. It’s important to remember that autoimmune arthritis comes in many different forms. For example, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis begins in childhood and ankylosing spondylitis is an autoimmune attack on the spine that often results in vertebrae fusing together. For individuals with autoimmune arthritis their symptoms come and go. They may experience painful flare ups or a period of less painful remission.

The treatment goals for sufferers of autoimmune arthritis are:

  • Stop flare ups
  • Manage pain
  • Stay mobile and active

To stop flare ups individuals try to avoid their triggers. Which can be difficult. Common triggers include stress, infections, injuries or environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke or insecticides. Each individual may have different triggers. Autoimmunity of the joints shares similar genetics with autoimmune conditions of the digestive system such as celiac disease and Sjogren’s disease. This suggests dietary intake of large proteins may trigger flare ups. As these proteins, such as gluten and gliadin from wheat, are digested enzymes break them into pieces. Those pieces can activate the immunes system. Eliminating trigger foods may help keep joints in remission.

Managing pain with medications requires a working relationship with a physician. Some medications, such as over the counter pain relievers or corticosteroids from your doctor, are meant to lower inflammation and reduce pain, particularly on a short-term basis. Other drugs like disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (or DMARDs) slow down attacks from the immune system. Of course, we still need a working immune system. This is why a working relationship with a physician is so important, to manage the dosage and side effects properly.

Keeping active with autoimmune arthritis is difficult. Exercise is painful. Fortunately, the benefits are clear. Studies on individuals with RA confirm that exercise does not increase joint damage and does not increase markers for inflammation. And when subjects with RA exercised their fitness increased and heart disease risk factors improved.


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4. Sandstad, J., Stensvold, D., Hoff, M. et al. Eur J Appl Physiol The effects of high intensity interval training in women with rheumatic disease: a pilot study. (2015) 115: 2081. doi:10.1007/s00421-015-3186-9

5. Kito, T., Teranishi, T., Nishii, K., Sakai, K., Matsubara, M., & Yamada, K. (2016). Effectiveness of exercise-induced cytokines in alleviating arthritis symptoms in arthritis model mice. Okajimas Folia Anatomica Japonica, 93(3), 81-88. doi:10.2535/ofaj.93.81

6. Stavropoulos-Kalinoglou A, Metsios GS, Veldhuijzen van Zanten JJ, et al Individualised aerobic and resistance exercise training improves cardiorespiratory fitness and reduces cardiovascular risk in patients with rheumatoid arthritis Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases 2013;72:1819-1825. – VO2 improves as do other markers in RA