Polyarthritis; What is it and What Can You Do About It?
July 8th, 2018
Conditions Associated with Polyarthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, as well as rubella, rheumatic fever, and mumps infections can all cause polyarthritis to occur. If polyarthritis is caused by a virus (like rubella), the condition usually subsides once the virus subsides. However, when faced with polyarthritis from a chronic condition, like lupus, polyarthritis will typically continue alongside the disorder.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Most Common Type of Polyarthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis, in particular, is one of the most common forms of polyarthritis, with more than 1.3 million Americans affected with this painful condition.⁶ Like other autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis begins when the body’s immune system begins to treat itself as a foreign invader, attacking its own healthy tissue, instead of outside forces, like viruses or bacteria. It’s not completely understood what causes autoimmune disorders, but genetics can sometimes play a role in its development, as can different environmental factors, such as pollution, or chemical exposure. Since 70% of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis are female, and 75% of people with any type of autoimmune condition are female,⁷ hormones are also thought to play a role in the development of this autoimmune disorder.⁶
In rheumatoid arthritis inflammation must be tightly controlled. If the inflammation isn’t managed, permanent damage to cartilage, bones, and joints can result.
Diagnosing and Treating Inflammatory Polyarthritis
Polyarthritis is discovered during a physical examination. Doctors may perform specific imaging and lab tests to confirm your polyarthritis, as well as to see how your polyarthritis is affecting your body.
While polyarthritis doesn’t necessarily have to be inflammatory, inflammation is usually a significant contributor to the arthritis symptoms, particularly when polyarthritis is associated with a disorder. Treatments for inflammatory polyarthritis are varied, and usually include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-Inflammatory drugs for polyarthritis (known as NSAIDs), to reduce inflammation and help control pain. While NSAIDs can be very effective, a major downside of these is that, with the frequent use they require in polyarthritis treatment, they hold the potential to cause a stomach ulcer. Be sure that your dose of NSAIDs is carefully monitored by your physician.
- Medications for polyarthritis that suppress the immune system, such as corticosteroids and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are often prescribed when polyarthritis is connected with an autoimmune disorder. DMARDs take several weeks to reach their full effect, so corticosteroids and NSAIDs can provide some relief while waiting for the medication to kick in. It’s important to know, however, that if you regularly take a corticosteroid, you’ll usually also need to take a medication to prevent bone loss, which can be caused by the medication. There are other side effects associated with these medications, so it’s important to fully discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor. ²
- Some polyarthritis topical medications and creams, such as Arnica or Aspercreme, can be purchased over-the-counter at your local pharmacy and applied to the skin of the affected area. These creams help to control pain.³
- Certain nutrients that help with polyarthritis, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, can also provide relief from polyarthritis. A meta-analysis in 2010 reported that omega-3s noticeably decreased the common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, to the point of study participants lowering their dose of NSAIDs, and some even no longer needing to use them.⁴ You can get omega-3s from eating fish and nuts, but to have maximum impact, you might consider taking a supplement. A vitamin B complex is also worth considering, as it, too, has shown some benefit in treating polyarthritic conditions.
- Hot and cold therapies for polyarthritis, such as warm baths, heating pads, and cooling wraps, can assist in symptom reduction, and allow you to feel more comfortable.
Diet and Polyarthritis
While there is no one diet for managing polyarthritis, some research studies have identified specific foods that help battle inflammation in the body. The Mediterranean diet, an eating plan that includes fish, healthy oils (particularly olive oil), nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruit, includes these foods, and may be a good choice for individuals who suffer from inflammatory conditions.⁶
Fish, like salmon and tuna, contain a wealth of omega-3s, which lower inflammation levels, while fruits and vegetables have high antioxidant content. Antioxidants positively support the immune system, fight inflammation, and reduce oxidative stress. Richly-colored fruits and green vegetables, such as blueberries, cherries, strawberries, spinach, broccoli, and kale are particularly high in antioxidants. When you choose lettuce, give romaine a try - the leaf’s richer, darker color than iceberg lettuce signifies the higher antioxidant content.
Extra virgin olive oil has numerous healthy properties, and has been extensively studied for its health benefits. The unsaturated fats in olive oil are protective for the heart, and the oil itself is filled with antioxidants that can further assist in reducing your inflammation. Make sure to choose a reputable olive oil, as there are many oils on store shelves that is marketed as olive oil, but is actually another, often less healthy, oil. You may want to check the bottle for a certification label. Based on the results of a 2013 study by the University of California at Davis, some olive oil brands that passed sample testing included California Olive Ranch, Bariani, Lucini, Cobram Estate, and Kirkland Organic.⁸
Fitness for Polyarthritis
Light exercise and gentle stretching can be wonderfully beneficial for all types of arthritis, including polyarthritis. It may seem impossible to exercise when you’re experiencing the pain of polyarthritis inflammation, but activity is actually an essential part of most treatment plans. Speak with your doctor or physical therapist about what type of exercise is best for you, but strengthening exercises, range-of-motion exercises, and low-impact activities, like swimming or walking, are terrific choices for lessening joint stiffness, and keeping muscles healthy.⁵ However, be willing to recognize your limits, and when you are experiencing active pain, allow your body the time it needs to rest. Rest reduces the feeling of tiredness that comes with polyarthritis, and the inflammation. You may also want to check out our blog post for some examples of easy, comforting stretches. A healthy balance of exercise and rest is necessary. Exercise boosts your mood and your energy. It helps you relax. As you journey through the pain of polyarthritis, it’s important to keep your mental health in balance, as well.
Self-Care for Polyarthritis
Research studies often uncover new ideas for treating conditions like polyarthritis. Deep breathing, guided imagery, and similar relaxation techniques may help relax muscles. Careful massage is also an alternative option that has shown some promise in studies as a supplemental treatment for polyarthritis, as has acupuncture and acupressure.⁶ There are even some health care insurance plans that will cover acupuncture as a benefit. Acupuncture involves the placement of thin needles at specific sites in order to relieve pain; acupressure doesn’t use needles.
Emotional support has been shown to be important for the management of polyarthritis. Research has shown that having any form of arthritis can negatively impact your mental health. At the same time, struggling with your mental health can also negatively impact your arthritis.⁶ Consider joining a support group or online network of individuals with polyarthritic conditions, and if you suffer from a psychiatric condition alongside your arthritis, be sure to seek out appropriate therapy and treatment. Many studies have shown that a positive outlook is largely correlated with better health, both mentally and physically.⁶ Support systems can help you hone your coping skills while battling such a debilitating problem.
Ultimately, the hope in treating polyarthritis rests in reducing inflammation, preventing joint damage, and making life less painful. Do you have polyarthritis? What has been your experience with treating such a difficult condition? Let us know about your experiences in the comments.
- Inflammatory Arthritis. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2018, from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/inflammatory-arthritis/
- Perkins, S. (2017, August 14). What Are the Treatments for Polyarthritis? Retrieved March 14, 2018, from https://www.livestrong.com/article/234759-what-are-the-treatments-for-polyarthritis/
- Polyarthritis: Symptoms, Causes, and Diagnosis. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/health/arthritis/polyarthritis#treated
- Fish Oil. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2018, from https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/supplements-herbs/guide/fish-oil.php
- How do exercise and arthritis fit together? (2016, October 26). Retrieved March 14, 2018, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20047971
- What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2018, from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/what-is-rheumatoid-arthritis.php
- Women & Autoimmunity • AARDA. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2018, from https://www.aarda.org/who-we-help/patients/women-and-autoimmunity/
- UC Davis Olive Center. (2013). Retrieved March 17, 2018, from http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/