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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a progressive disease which inflames the joints and can cause disability if left untreated. The disease, which affects 1% of the people in the world, causes joint destruction over time. RA is diagnosed based on presence of certain indications of the disease which are clinically confirmed through laboratory tests. RA has a newer way of being diagnosed, thanks to medical advancements, which allows for early detection and treatment.

RA typically affects the joints by causing symmetric polyarticular inflammation of a fluid found between joints known as synovium. It often attacks the small joints of the wrist, hands (MCP and PIP) and feet. The inflammation caused by RA can lead to pain of different intensity and stiffness in patients. The progressive joint damage that occurs as the disease persists leads to loss of function for affected joints and deformity.

The effects are further worsened by damage of associated organs, which also plays a role in severe cases of disability. In addition, prolonged inflammation secondary to the disease increases the chances of cardiovascular disease in patients as well as alterations in bone metabolism. Currently, patients with clinical synovitis affecting at least one joint are highly likely to suffer from RA which will require aggressive treatment.

Luckily acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are an effective alternative treatment method that is available to the public. Before we delve more into Chinese medicine let’s take a look at the symptoms, causes, risk factors and treatments of this autoimmune disease.

Prevalence of Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is a common condition in the United States (Barbour KE et al., 2013). According to Helmick CG and colleagues (2016), Arthritis is the leading cause of disability In the U.S. The disease is projected to affect 78.4 million adults by the year 2040 ( Hootman JM et al.,2016). RA is known to affect women up to 3 times more than men. The onset of RA symptoms also occurs earlier in women than in men.

The disease is more likely to affect adults between the ages of 30 and 60 years. Even so, the average person will not develop RA symptoms until they get to their 60’s.

A study from Rochester, Minnesota spanning 40 years showed that RA incidences have reduced over the time of the study. The number of people affected with the disease fell from a rate of 61.2/100,000 in 1955 from 1964, to 32.7/100,000 from 1985 to 1994. The study also indicated the presence of cyclical trends in occurrence.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis 

RA symptoms are experienced in flares and remissions. During flares, the symptoms are severe and cause a lot of discomfort to patients. Remissions are times when the symptoms calm down. Such symptoms include;

  • Swelling and tenderness in two or more joints
  • Aching or pain from at least two joints
  • Weight loss
  • Similar symptoms on both sides of the body, such as stiffness or pain on both hands.
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Fever
  • General feeling of weakness

Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease caused by an immune response where the body attacks itself, weakening perfectly healthy cells. There are no known specific causes for the disease; however, there are factors which have been established to increase risk.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk Factors

Research into the disease has discovered a number of environmental and genetic factors which can increase the chances of falling victim to the disease such as.

  • Smoking: the habit has been identified to increase risk and make the condition worse in the case of patients who smoke.
  • Genetics: There are genes which predispose people to the disease. The genes, known as HLA (human leukocyte antigen) class II genotypes, also worsen a patient’s arthritis. People with the genes have the highest risk of RA with poor lifestyle choices such as smoking.
  • Age: people in their sixties are more likely to develop the disease.
  • Sex: the disease has been observed more in women than men.
  • Early life exposure: Studies have found that children exposed to risk factors at an early age are likely to develop the disease later in life. One study showed that mothers who smoke predispose their children to the disease later on in life.

Western Treatments of Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are medications used to treat and manage the disease. Self-management strategies also work. The medications are formulated to slow down the progression of the disease and minimize joint destruction. Drugs to treat the condition are known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDS). Biologicals or biological response modifiers are also used as a second-line treatment.

Aside from medical treatments, patients can also manage the disease using self-management techniques. Such techniques allow the patients to lead a normal life to a great extent. Effective strategies have the effect of reducing pain and disability. The downside to pharmaceuticals, however, is the inevitable risk of side effects.

Research showing the efficacy of Acupuncture Treatment in Rheumatoid Arthritis

A study conducted by Lai-Shan Tam et al. (2007), involving a group of 80 patients took a period of 20 weeks. The study grouped test subjects in classes of 12 and identified 6 acupuncture positions to use. The groups were divided to represent electro-acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Acupuncture and control subjects. Those going through EA and TCA had significantly reduced tenderness and joint pain at the end.

A systematic review conducted by Wang C et al (2008)., investigated the effectiveness of acupuncture in treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis from 12 medical databases from China and the West. The average time per study was 11 weeks and the average needle insertion time was 24 minutes.

Eight of the studies showed positive results for the use of acupuncture in treating RA. The studies showed significant reduction in pain ranging from 1.5 to 6.5 on a 10 point pain scale. The studies also showed that acupuncture could reduce morning stiffness in patients.

At Boca Raton Acupuncture we have had much success treating many autoimmune diseases including Rheumatoid Arthritis. If you’re suffering let us help. Click here to learn more about acupuncture and how it works or call us for a free consultation today.