This post is the first in a series of Beginner's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis by Lene Andersen. Have a topic you'd like to see covered? Leave it in a comment!
The average person farts about 14 times a day. If you are on a medication for RA, you can probably double that.
Drugs that help control the disease usually have side effects, many involving bodily functions and fluids not normally spoken of in polite society. But if the choice is between being in so much pain you can't move or higher-than-average flatulence, there really is no choice, is there? So you find a way to manage it and in the process, learn to be a lot less self-conscious.
There are two kinds of side effects: the ones you live with (covered in this post) and the ones where you need to make an appointment with your doctor. If you listen to your body and trust its messages, you will know the difference. When in doubt, see your doctor.
Many immunosuppressant meds (e.g., methotrexate and the biologic drugs), make you more susceptible to sinus infections. It starts with the snot production of a two-year-old with a head cold, followed by inflammation (which prevents drainage) and, before you know it, there is a festering stew of nastiness. Taking antibiotics every couple of months is not healthy, but there are things you can do that may decrease the number of infections:
• Drink lots of water (which dilutes the mucus, making it easier to drain).
• Eat as much garlic as you -- and the people around you -- can handle (garlic has antibacterial effects).
• Drink pineapple juice. Drinking the good stuff, 100% pineapple juice, every day may also help. Not only is it full of vitamin C, pineapple contains an anti-inflammatory enzyme.
• Irrigate your sinuses with salt water. It can be helpful. You can either drip salt water into your nostrils with a Q-tip, like you do for a baby with a cold, or try a Neti pot (see this article on HealthCentral's allergy site).
Medications for RA are notoriously hard on the stomach, causing nausea and acidity and many of us need prescription medication like Pantoloc or Nexium. Further help and management of gas production can be found in over-the-counter medications like antacids (e.g., Maalox or Gaviscon) and anti-gas tablets like Gas-X and Beano.
Ginger and peppermint teas help control the nausea as well as drinking cups of hot water with a small slice of lemon throughout the day, which helps settle your stomach.
When you're nauseated, fresh, raw vegetables and fruit are often easier to get than rich, spicy and/or hot food. Eating lightly every 3-4 hours will ensure that your stomach has something to "work with," which helps keep the nausea down. When it's really bad, toast, dry crackers and other bland foods can help until you feel food enough to eat real food.
Diarrhea and Constipation
RA meds can also cause either diarrhea or, most often, constipation. My naturopath suggested taking acidophilus (a helpful bacteria) supplements once or twice a day with meals to regulate bowel. After I started taking this, I discovered that it also helped combat the acid in my stomach, so I take it religiously. Although acidophilus is probably available in your local supermarket or pharmacy, you may want to get the really good stuff at a health food or vitamin store. Remember to keep it refrigerated.