Does a healthy lifestyle assist in reducing rheumatoid arthritis symptoms?

Written by: Dr Elena Nikiphorou
Published: | Updated: 26/05/2021
Edited by: Karolyn Judge

Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating condition that causes pain and disability. Dr Elena Nikiphorou considers the links between obesity and rheumatoid arthritis adverse outcomes.


Grey and white weighing scales in a doctor's office


Healthier lifestyles for people with rheumatoid arthritis and obesity can potentially reduce inflammation and therefore, disease flares and disability.


Recent findings based on work by myself and my team at King’s College London, have demonstrated that people with the inflammatory conditions have lower rates of remission and a higher disability occurrence.


There is a growing recognition that the inflammatory states mediated by obesity and those by inflammatory rheumatic diseases share common pathways. Some have suggested that, in fact, obesity is a low-grade chronic inflammatory condition.


Strong argument to include obesity screening


Based on our data, there is a strong argument to include obesity screening and management as a central part of all treatment plans for rheumatoid arthritis patients.  


The study looked at the associations between BMI and disease activity status (DAS), in patients. It found that those participants with higher BMI and in particular, obesity had significantly lower chances of achieving remission. 


Regarding disability, obesity increased disability occurrence by 63 per cent and higher DAS was significantly predictive of higher disability rates. 


Potentially better results


Obesity is potentially a reversible comorbidity (the presence of two or more diseases in the same person) and successfully treating it can contribute to better disease activity and results. 


There are many ways to enact a healthier lifestyle. These include improvements to your diet, reducing your alcohol intake and no smoking. Furthermore, light exercise coinciding with medication and physiotherapy can really assist. 


Make an appointment with Dr Elena Nikiphorou if you’re concerned about rheumatoid arthritis. You can find her Top Doctors profile here

By Dr Elena Nikiphorou

Dr Elena Nikiphorou is a renowned consultant rheumatologist who sees patients at The London Clinic on Harley Street. She has a clinical interest in rheumatoid arthritis and spondyloarthritis. She has expertise in all aspects of general rheumatology, including connective tissue and metabolic bone disease; crystal and reactive arthritis.

Dr Nikiphorou has a clinical and academic interest in inflammatory arthritis (IA). She completed her MBBS at University College London and obtained a first-class honours for her Intercalated BSc in Physiology. She was also awarded a British Pharmacological Society Award and a Wellcome Trust Vacation Scholarship for her BSc research. Following a number of diverse medical rotations in London as a junior doctor, she completed her rheumatology training at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge. During this time, she was awarded a CLRN Research Associate Fellowship which culminated in her MD research at University College London, examining structural outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Dr Nikiphorou is currently a consultant rheumatologist at King’s College Hospital and an adjunct senior lecturer at King’s College London. She has been the recipient of multiple awards, bursaries and competitive roles. One of these awards was the Richard Kovacs prize by the Royal Society of Medicine in 2014, which supported a fellowship in Chicago. She also received the Doris Hillier grant from the British Medical Association in 2018, to support her work on multimorbidity in rheumatoid arthritis and the development of management algorithms according to individual needs.

At international level, she has been the recipient of several international bursaries and awards, including a European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR)-funded educational training fellowship in Finland and an Assessment of SpondyloArthritis International Society (ASAS) award in collaboration with Leiden University, The Netherlands. She currently holds an early career grant with FOREUM undertaking research in refractory rheumatoid arthritis

Dr Nikiphorou is involved in a number of national and international rheumatology societies and initiatives. She has held a number of leadership positions over the years, including the presidentship of the rheumatology & rehabilitation section at The Royal Society of Medicine and the chair of the largest network of young rheumatologists and researchers in Europe (The Emerging EULAR Network). 

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