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Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women

How to manage your work and home life when you have rheumatoid arthritis.

Women and RA: Lifestyle Modifications Make All the Difference

Rochelle Rosian, MD, a rheumatologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, agrees that women with RA face an uphill battle in certain regards. "Some of the concerns I hear from women with RA are will they have enough energy and stamina to keep up with child care, working, and exercise," she says. "The key is to know their limits and set boundaries."

While this may be easier said than done, it starts with effective therapy, regular sleep, maintaining a healthy weight, managing risk factors for heart disease and other related illnesses like the brittle bone disease osteoporosis, and leaning on friends and family when things get tough.

"When you have a chronic illness such as RA with all the inflammation and implications on the immune system, sleep is really key," Rosian says. Aim for close to eight hours a night.

Benefits of Exercise for Women With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Regular exercise can also help women with RA feel better and improve their quality of life.

For Schear, regular exercise takes the form of walking her dog, Charlie Chan, a Shih Tzu breed. "He gets me out and about unless it is icy, because if I slip I have trouble getting up by myself," she says. "Charlie Chan is the mayor of West Brighton, Staten Island. Everyone knows him from our walks." Schear also does strength training using light weights three times a week.

"People with RA don't need to exercise hard, but walking, stretching, water exercises, stationary bicycling or riding a bicycle, and just staying active are really important ways to keep flexible within the limits of your joint pain," Rosian says.

"Exercise is always good because these women may be on steroids to treat their RA and exercise can help prevent steroid-induced bone loss," says Bili. Other ways to help head off osteoporosis include taking calcium supplements, which help keep bones strong, and getting regular bone density tests.

Women with RA are also at increased risk for heart disease, so anything that reduces their heart risks is also recommended, experts stress.

"The major cause of death in RA is cardiovascular disease, so women with RA need to take better care of themselves as far as controlling their weight, eating a healthful diet, and making sure that their cholesterol and blood pressure levels are where they should be," Bili says. "Not smoking is particularly important."

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease and also increases risk of RA. Some research suggests that quitting smoking can also reduce joint pain and swelling.

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