One night Stephanie Hass, then 34, collapsed on her couch, completely exhausted. When she woke up, she could hardly move. "All my major joints were swollen -- my knees, shoulders, ankles, wrists, hands. It was so painful I couldn't walk. It felt like there were knives in my feet," she says.
Hass was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which the body turns on itself, most often attacking the small joints in the hands and feet.
"Rheumatoid arthritis can affect not only the joints but also the entire body, including the lungs, skin, and eyes," says Veena K. Ranganath, MD, assistant clinical professor in rheumatology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.
While there's no cure for RA -- which affects mostly women -- our expert offers advice to help you manage.
Talk to an expert. Because RA symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions, see an expert to get the right diagnosis and treatment. Talk to your rheumatologist to make sure you're on the right medication for you, she says, even if you've been treated for a while. Another medication or a newer drug may be best for you.
Keep moving. Once the disease is under control and you're not in pain, keep active, Ranganath says. Exercise and a healthy diet can also help you lose weight, which can take some of the pressure off your joints, she says. Talk to your doctor about exercises you can do, and build up slowly.
Get support. Living with an ongoing "chronic" condition can take a toll on your emotional health. About 1 in 3 people with RA say they have depression, Ranganath says. Talk to your doctor, and see a therapist if you need to, she says. Or try the Arthritis Foundation to find a support group.
Try yoga. Studies show that doing yoga can help with fatigue, a major symptom of RA. Yoga may also relieve inflammation, research shows.
Ask about supplements. No particular diet works to ease RA symptoms, but some evidence suggests that the spice turmeric can help, Ranganath says. One small 2012 study showed that curcumin (the main ingredient in turmeric) helped relieve joint pain and swelling for people with the disease. As always, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
Hass, now 43, worked with her doctor and tried different medications to help get her RA under control. She's also found alternative treatments to be healing. "I do a lot of natural remedies, like making hot drinks with turmeric and coconut milk," she says. "Meditation also helps me a lot."
As for exercise, "it's difficult when you're flaring. But on the days when it's better, walking, hot yoga, and qigong are the things I can do."
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