Nancy S. Harrison, MD, Discusses Rheumatoid Arthritis

Nancy S. Harrison, MD, a physician with Hattiesburg Clinic The Arthritis Center – West, recently discussed rheumatoid arthritis (RA), how it attacks the body and how to manage quality of life.  

RA is a chronic inflammatory arthritis condition triggered by the autoimmune system. The National Library of Medicine notes RA affects one percent of the world population1. It usually presents at age 50 or higher but can present as early as childhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four adults in the United States live with RA, and women are twice as likely to develop RA than men. The joint pain, swelling and stiffness triggered by RA occur because the body is tricked into attacking its own cells; this creates inflammation. RA attacks the musculoskeletal system as well as the heart, lungs, skin, eyes and on rare occasions, the kidney. Dr. Harrison said RA can leave patients with feelings of depression, generalized malaise and fatigue.

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by both a genetic and environmental component. Harrison said those with genes called human leukocyte antigen class II are at high risk for developing RA, but the gene may not express the disease until an environmental trigger causes activation of the immune system. Smoking, obesity, poor gut health and even periodontal disease can cause the body to start producing these antibodies. 

How Can I Manage RA

  • Quit smoking. Smoking is not recommended for any patients, especially those with RA.
  • Increase activity level. RA puts patients at a higher risk for heart attacks, and studies show 30 minutes of exercise five days a week can help decrease that risk.
  • Manage weight. Those with RA are predisposed to obesity. Managing weight with a healthy diet and physical activity, as stated earlier, can help prevent joint pain as well as chronic illness like diabetes and hypertension.
  • Manage medications. Patients should talk to their primary care physician or rheumatologist about medications that can help inflammation and RA autoimmunity. 

Another environmental factor that can increase RA and arthritic pain is the weather. “It’s not a myth,” Harrison said. “Many patients express concerns of increased pain during colder months, rainy days and during days with high humidity. Changes in the barometric pressure, with regard to humidity and rain, can affect the pressure in joints which causes swelling and stiffness. During colder months, the synovial fluid in joints thickens making swelling and stiffness worse. Lastly, people are less active during rainy days, cold days or hot days. Less activity means less movement which causes more chances of stiffness and pain.”

With humid days being a regular occurrence during Mississippi summers, Harrison shared a few tips to help manage RA symptoms throughout the summer months:

  • Stay hydrated. Patients should drink half their body weight in ounces each day. If they weigh 160 pounds, they should drink 80 ounces of water every day.
  • Keep cool. Avoid extreme temperatures if possible.
  • Know when and where to exercise. It’s important to stay active, but patients should avoid high temperatures. If they must exercise outside, go early in the morning or later in the evening. Join a gym, swim or workout with a Pilates or yoga DVD. There are many workouts available to stream online.
  • Wear proper shoes. RA patients need shoes with good support. If they want to wear sandals during the summer, find a pair with support.

If you suspect you are at risk of developing RA, talk to your primary care physician. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is important because permanent joint damage can occur within the first six months of the onset of the disease. The Arthritis Center – West has five rheumatologists, inhouse lab, imaging and an infusion center. Get your referral today or call our office at (601) 288-7500 for more information.

This story was covered by WLOX. Follow the link to watch Dr. Harrison’s interview:

About The Arthritis Center – West

Hattiesburg Clinic The Arthritis Center – West provides diagnostic work-up and treatment of patients with rheumatic disease. Board-certified rheumatologists implement a comprehensive team approach to provide therapies for such disorders as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, polymyositis, scleroderma vasculitis and related connective tissue diseases.