Evidence suggests that rheumatoid arthritis can also be linked to digestive tract problems. Not only is it the disease, but also the medications for treating RA that can inflame and irritate the gut.
NSAIDs are well known for potentially causing ulcers and other stomach problems. Methotrexate can also cause stomach upset and illness. Since having RA for more than 35 years, I have come to expect stomach issues from my medications, especially due to the length and variety of the treatment mix.
My experience with digestion issues
During my life with RA, my stomach has gone through ups and downs. When I was taking NSAIDs during my teen years, I had frequent bouts of irritable bowel syndrome. I also noticed that certain foods would set off my stomach.
While I am no longer taking NSAIDs, I still have sensitivities to certain foods that are acidic or spicy. For some reason, my stomach has also never liked peppers. I have a theory that it is because peppers fall under the nightshade family of plants and wonder if other kinds might also aggravate my body.
Digestion trouble connected to RA?
Unfortunately, I think digestion troubles can go underreported and undertreated because RA patients are already dealing with enough challenges. However, these are important issues because digestion is crucial for absorbing nutrients we need. In addition, there’s quality of life issues when your stomach hurts or you constantly need to be near a bathroom. My feeling is if digestion is affecting your life, talk to your doctor and work on trying different solutions.
Symptoms of digestion trouble
Healthgrades shares a helpful overview of the digestive symptoms that can be connected with RA, which can include heartburn, ulcers, infection, and other symptoms. I was interested to read people with RA can experience swollen esophagus and trouble swallowing, as I have experienced these symptoms.
For me, I find it helpful to avoid certain foods that aggravate my digestive tract. Healthgrades also offers guidance on eating right, such as healthy fibers from fruit and vegetables, low-fat proteins, coldwater fish, and olive oil. These sound like solid recommendations to me for both RA and supporting digestion.
What the research says
Some research has found that people with RA have altered bacteria in their gut, which could contribute to digestive problems. I have found that during and even after taking antibiotics for various infections, my digestion has been off. My doctors have periodically suggested taking probiotics to help support the natural gut flora. I have also found eating yogurt to be helpful.
The key takeaway is that tummy troubles connected to RA are not imaginary! If you are experiencing digestion problems, definitely talk about it with your doctor and work on exploring options. Food elimination and reintroduction can help identify triggers for digestion problems.
The impact of medications on digestion
Additionally, perhaps medications can be adjusted, timing for taking them, consuming with food (or not)—with the ultimate goal of easing tummy trouble. For example, I take my methotrexate before going to sleep on Friday nights so that if I have any illness, I sleep through it. The rest of my oral medications are taken with meals, spread across the day. I have a pretty rigid schedule for myself to manage my RA, but also to try to lessen the stress on my stomach.
Don't dismiss your digestive health
Definitely don’t let stomach problems linger and escalate. The last thing you need to deal with is an infection or more serious problems on top of the daily challenges of RA! It’s all about paying attention to your body, especially understanding what is normal for you versus any changes you have experienced with RA or different medications. Digestion troubles can be managed with a little help and planning.
Have you gotten the COVID-19 vaccine yet?