Most people think of aches and pains when they hear about arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and similar ailments. The truth is, these conditions are complex, and there are still so many unknowns that surround each of them.
Yes, pain and inflammation are often a huge part of various forms of arthritis and other chronic autoimmune illnesses, but, as we’ve discussed in other blog posts, many other organs and body systems can become symptomatic, and inflammation can affect the entire body and all its parts.
Here are some ways in which our cardiovascular and circulatory systems can be compromised or affected by diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and more:
- Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can cause both blood flow problems and various heart problems.
- Patients with RA can develop a rare disorder called Rheumatoid Vasculitis.
- Lupus and other autoimmune illnesses can also cause vasculitis and lower blood volume.
- Almost all autoimmune illnesses can affect white blood cell count one way or another.
- Lack of exercise from chronic pain disorders can hinder circulation and can also prevent muscles from getting the oxygen/blood flow that they need. (Muscles can spasm or become atrophied – this includes your heart!)
- About 25% of patients with fibromyalgia report experiencing circulation problems.
- Some rheumatologists have found protozoa or bacteria in the blood that thicken the blood, making it sticky, and causing some blood flow issues, in patients with Lyme Disease or rheumatic disorders.
- According to the European League Against Rheumatism: People with RA, AS and PsA are associated with an increased cardiovascular risk and, in RA, this risk is at least double the norm.
- Sjögren‘s syndrome , RA, and lupus can be linked with blood clots in some cases.
Perhaps one of the most circulation-related rheumatic conditions is Raynaud’s disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Raynaud’s (ray-NOHZ) disease is a condition that causes some areas of your body — such as your fingers, toes, the tip of your nose and your ears — to feel numb and cool in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud’s disease, smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas.”
The Arthritis Foundation has some information on Raynaud’s phenomenon, here.
Regardless of which conditions or symptoms you live with, the following tips can help you improve your circulation and your cardiovascular health:
- Exercise, Exercise, Exercise! — it gets the blood flowing and helps deliver vital oxygen to all of your organs. Exercise is the best way to improve circulation and prevent cardiovascular disease, even if it is simply walking or yoga. Probably one of the biggest problems patients with pain face in regards to their cardiovascular health is lack of exercise and physical activity due to pain, weakness, stiffness, and fatigue.
- A healthy diet is crucial in maintaining overall health and keeping your blood pH balanced and healthy.
- Hydration! Plenty of fluids will help increase blood volume and keep you hydrated. Chug that H2O!
- Seeing a cardiologist to rule out or monitor serious cardiovascular disease can be an important part of disease management. They may run various tests to check up on your cardiovascular health. EULAR & Arthritis Today say that “annual cardiovascular risk screening is recommended for all RA patients and should be considered for ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis patients, as well.”
- Certain foods, herbal teas, and supplements are shown to support a healthy blood pressure and good circulation. Ask a naturopath, a medical doctor, acupuncturist, or a holistic health coach which of these may work for you.
- Try compression tights or socks to help circulation in the legs.
- Check your blood pressure regularly. Some common analgesic pain relievers can elevate blood pressure, and other medications can lower it. Be conscientious.
- Keep an eye on your cholesterol levels in addition to your blood pressure and heart rate.
- Acupuncture and massage can be great for circulation and cardiovascular health!!
- Quit smoking! Enough said.
- If you have Raynaud’s, during an attack warm your fingers and toes (e.g. run warm water over your fingers, soak your feet in a bowl of warm water) and take time to relax.
- Reduce stress and anxiety in your life.
- Stay active!
- Don’t stay sedentary for long periods of time. Change positions frequently, stand up to stretch, elevate your feet, walk around for 5 or 10 minutes every hour, etc.
- Don’t oversleep! While too little sleep can be detrimental to our mental, physical, and emotional health, so can too much sleep. Why? Because laying down for even 10-12 hours straight can increase your risk for blood clots and can confuse your cardiovascular system. You’ll notice that after laying for long periods of time, you may feel lightheaded and experience a drop in blood pressure and an increase in heart rate when you sit or stand up, and, too much sleep can also decrease aerobic ability thus decreasing heart health and circulation.
- The Arthritis Foundation, the American Heart Association, and Livestrong have many more health tips that can help you on your way, as does this article with 9 Tips for Improving Circulation, and this article on Happiness & Heart Health!
Good luck! Feel free to leave a comment sharing any tips you may have for improving circulation, and/or staying heart-healthy with rheumatic disease, chronic pain, or autoimmune illness!
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