Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system identifies body tissue as foreign invaders. As a result, it attacks the tissue that lines the bone joints, making them inflamed. Patients also experience significant swelling, joint pain and stiffness when they have rheumatoid arthritis. Anemia, on the other hand, is a condition in which the patient’s blood does not contain enough red blood cells. This can be dangerous as red blood cells carry oxygen all over the body, which gives various organs the energy to carry out daily tasks. So, on paper, the two conditions are quite different. But, rheumatoid arthritis and anemia have a strong link.
Researchers have connected rheumatoid arthritis with different types of anemia like iron deficiency anemia and anemia of chronic inflammation. This is because during a flare up of RA, the immune system attacks bodily tissues, leading to inflammation and joint pain. One of the side effects of chronic inflammation is that it causes the lowering of the production of red blood cells in the body. The bone marrow then releases certain proteins that can affect the way that the body uses iron.
Thus, there is a link between rheumatoid arthritis and anemia.
Apart from the biological changes that come with RA, researches have also noticed that certain types of RA medicine can also contribute to anemia. If the patient is taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), he/she may experience a few other side effects like bleeding ulcers in the digestive tract. This blood loss contributes to the development of anemia. A few generic names of NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and meloxicam. These drugs can also cause liver damage with extended usage. As the iron absorbed from food in the body is stored in the liver, this is another reason why RA patients can sometimes develop anemia symptoms. If your doctor prescribes any of these medications, you should ask about the side effects and how you can prevent them.
What are the Symptoms of Anemia?
As a patient with RA, you must stay vigilant regarding the signs your body exhibits. Some anemia symptoms you should know about include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Chest pain: Especially when anemia leads to a lack of oxygen in your heart
- Cold feet and hands
Often, anemia caused by rheumatoid arthritis is quite mild. Due to this, patients often do not spot the anemia symptoms in themselves. The condition is mostly diagnosed during blood work. This is why doctors tell most RA patients about the importance of regular check-ups, especially when they have been prescribed NSAIDs.
How is Anemia Diagnosed?
Anemia diagnosis occurs through a range for different diagnostic tests. Some of these include the following:
- Red blood cell count
- Hemoglobin test
- Serum iron
- Serum ferritin
- Reticulocyte count
These are all different types of blood tests that help doctors reach an accurate anemia diagnosis.
How is Anemia Treated?
Anemia caused by rheumatoid arthritis must be treated immediately. This is because the lack of oxygen reaching body parts can lead to severe complications. Patients can also develop arrhythmia and heart attacks due to the fact that the heart has to beat at a faster pace to ensure the required amount of oxygen reaches the body.
Doctors generally treat osteoarthritis anemia by getting the inflammation in the body under control. They also ask the patient to take doses of iron supplements in measured amounts.
Preventing RA flare ups can help patients prevent the occurrence of anemia in their body.
Iron Rich Food for Anemia
Now that you know about rheumatoid arthritis and anemia link, you must also understand what you can do to prevent anemia from developing. One of the best ways to take care of your health is by indulging in a balanced diet. For preventing anemia, patients must each an iron-rich diet. Some foods that contain high amounts of iron are the following:
- Leafy vegetables: Like spinach and kale have high iron content
- Meats: All types of meat and poultry having heme iron in them, making them great options for anemic patients. Red meat and lamb have higher amounts of iron when compared to poultry.
- Seafood: Most types of seafood are very rich in iron. Some of the foods that you should consider adding to your diet include fish like sardines, tuna, perch, salmon, haddock and halibut. You can have canned varieties as well as fresh ones.
- Fortified foods have high iron content. This may include juices, ready-to-cereals and certain types of milk.
- Nuts and seeds: Eating pumpkin seeds, cashews, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, pistachios and hemp seeds are great snacks that improve your iron intake.
- Liver: Rich in iron, liver is the best organ meat for an anemic to consume.
Rheumatoid arthritis and anemia are linked, and there’s no two ways about it. You must follow the check-ups schedule provided by your doctor if you are on any RA medication to prevent anemia from developing. Remember to eat iron-rich foods or take iron supplements (as prescribed by your doctor) to make sure you don’t get anemia. Also, keep a calendar of all your flare ups so that your doctor can decide whether you need a stronger dosage!