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Aching with Arthritis?

What is polyarthritis, and what tests are needed to diagnose it?

Answer (Published 2/24/2005)

Polyarthritis means inflammation of more than one joint and is most often associated with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease (one that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues). Polyarthritis is also associated with lupus, polymyalgia rheumatica, and sarcoidosis. All of these autoimmune disorders can be triggered by infection, tissue injury, or emotional trauma in people who are genetically predisposed to these conditions.

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Polyarthritis, as well as its underlying cause, can be diagnosed by physical exam (the affected joints are swollen, stiff, painful or tender, and may feel warm and appear reddened) as well as by a variety of blood tests. These would include a measure of your erythocyte sedimentation rate (sed rate). A high sed rate suggests the presence of acute inflammation and occurs with rheumatoid arthritis and other immune-mediated connective tissue diseases such as lupus.

Conventional medicine treats autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis with steroids and other immunosuppressive medications, most of which are toxic when used long-term. Patients dependent on these strong drugs are less likely to respond to natural treatments, which can moderate autoimmunity and help control symptoms. Here are my recommendations:

  • Follow a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet; minimize consumption of foods of animal origin.
  • Eliminate milk and milk products including commercial foods made with milk.
  • Avoid polyunsaturated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening and products made with partially hydrogenated oils of any kind.
  • Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids (eat more cold water fish, walnuts or freshly ground flaxseeds). Consider taking a fish oil supplement to help keep your protein intake low.
  • Eliminate or reduce intake of coffee and tobacco - both have been linked to an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Get regular aerobic exercise (swimming is best for those with rheumatoid arthritis).
  • Practice relaxation techniques. In addition, visualization can help moderate autoimmune responses, and psychotherapy can help alter emotional states that keep the immune system off balance.
  • Try hypnotherapy or guided imagery. Look for a therapist willing to take on an autoimmune disease. Meditation and yoga can help, too.
  • Avoid health care practitioners who make you feel pessimistic about your condition.
  • Take aspirin and other over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs to help relieve symptoms.
  • Take the anti-inflammatory herbs ginger and turmeric. You can safely take these herbs indefinitely. 

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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