Rheumatoid Cachexia and RA
Modern health and medicine is the product of decades of ongoing scientific discovery and growth, which collectively has allowed us to achieve a better understanding of the human body and its physiology. Following from this, we have accomplished a great deal in terms of producing and refining better and better treatments for any ailments that have come to be better understood over all this time. This is far from a perfect situation, mind you, but science continues onward in its quest to help us bring more of our physiology within our understanding and help us design ways to deal with problems we encounter.
For example, our current understanding of the fascinating engineering of the human body has come farther than ever before. The joints in our body are clearly understood as marvels of muscular and skeletal interaction, where the ends of bones meet and are cushioned with layers of rubbery tissue called cartilage that prevents friction and allows for smooth movement. The muscles, ligaments and tendons help facilitate the movement of these bone structures when the muscles tighten or flex, which allows our joints to distribute our body weight as needed for our various motion-related needs. The fact that our movement is often also predicated upon supporting and carrying our body weight – imagine how much work our ankles and knees need to do, for instance? – makes this even more of a marvel.
We not only understand our joints better but we now also understand the ailments that afflict them. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is very clearly understood these days – while some aspects of it are still being investigated, many scientific advancements have led us to intelligent speculation on genetic indicators that may herald the ailment.
Rheumatoid Cachexia: Wasting Away the Muscles
One other side effect of rheumatoid arthritis is known as rheumatoid cachexia. Similar to the bone loss caused by rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid cachexia is the wasting away of the muscles – it’s literally informally called “muscle wasting” – over time. Rheumatoid cachexia affects about 60% of rheumatoid arthritis patients, and can itself lead to some very serious complications including heart disease. It remains unclear exactly what it is that leads to rheumatoid cachexia, although obesity and a diet high in saturated fat are risk factors. Research also suggests that high levels of the protein cytokine.
Rheumatoid cachexia is described as causing, among other things, an elevated energy expenditure even when the muscles are at rest – simply put, a patient’s muscles would keep using energy even when they’re being perfectly still. This would over time lead to the loss of muscle tissue (not fat, it’s worth noting) and eventual loss of hand and thigh strength. One more urgent cause for concern, however, is noting that the heart itself is a muscle – and as such muscle wasting and heart failure are in fact commonly associated.
Rheumatoid cachexia is usually associated with weight changes. It bears reiterating that this tends to be due to the loss of muscle mass and not body fat due to the elevated resting energy expenditure. Other patients may suffer depression and thus eat less, while others may end up piling on the pounds even without a dietary change simply due to the lack of activity.
What to do?
How, then, can one confront muscle wasting? There is no known cure, but one can manage the impact of the effects of the disease. One type of exercise that fights lean tissue loss is resistance exercise, which is typically recommended for those dealing with rheumatoid cachexia. Resistance exercise can also have the additional benefits of reducing pain in some areas, while expanding one’s range of motion. Both of these represent valuable ground regained after they have been initially diminished by rheumatoid cachexia. Resistance training is simple, too – this mainly involves pushing or pulling to increase the strength of the muscles involved. Some choose to do resistance training in water so that their joints aren’t under as much stress thanks to the added weightlessness.
Research suggests however that more than one approach may be needed to more effectively combat the effects of rheumatoid cachexia. Your doctor will most likely try to analyze your body mass index and level of nutrition in order to get a clearer picture. Computed tomography scans and magnetic resonance imaging scans may also be in order so as to get a clear understanding of the state of muscle wasting, whereupon your doctor will look at the possible treatment options. For example, dietary modification is one possible avenue of attack. Your doctor and/or nutritionist may work with you to design a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet. Fish oil and other substances that may help reduce fatigue, improve weight and muscle strength – and possibly even offer side benefits like fighting inflammation, and in turn reducing pain – may also be looked into as additional options to help the body condition itself to stave off the effects of rheumatoid cachexia.
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