arthritis care and holiday cheer

Balancing Arthritis Care and Holiday Cheer

The holidays can be full of fun and good cheer, but it can also usher in extra health risks if you have arthritis. Try these tips to avoid them.

Colds and Flu

Flu activity generally starts peaking in December, and holiday gatherings are prime opportunities for viruses to spread. People taking immunosuppressive drugs, like those commonly prescribed for inflammatory types of arthritis, are at increased risk of getting sick.  These medications lower the body’s ability to fight infection. Rheumatologist Dee Dee Wu, MD, at the Hospital for Special Surgery Paramus Outpatient Center in New Jersey, says hand washing is the easiest way to fight germs. “It’s been proven to prevent transmission of infection,” she says. More common-sense advice: Don’t hug, kiss or drink out of the same glass as people who are actively ill. Keep shared surfaces clean. And make sure you are up to date on vaccines, especially for flu. For people older than 50, a flu shot can reduce the risk of hospitalization from the flu by 57 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Schedule Changes

Sleep and exercise schedules can go off course when we are busy, stressed or traveling. Try to stick to pre-holiday habits so you’ll feel better. Lack of sleep is known to worsen pain, increase flare risk and, if it’s chronic, even contribute to depression. Regular exercise will not only help reduce pain, but it can also promote sleep and fight stress.

Medication Missteps

It’s a busy time of year with many distractions, so be vigilant about sticking with your medication regimen. Skipping meds can lead to worsening pain, inflammation and disease progression. “Outcomes are definitely better when patients take medicine as prescribed,” Dr. Wu notes. Set reminder alarms on your phone, leave sticky notes where you will see them every day, or use a pill box to keep track. Don’t forget to stay on top of refills, too.

Slips and Falls

The risk of slipping and falling – and possibly fracturing a hip or wrist – increases when snow and ice are on the ground. People with arthritis have a higher risk of fractures for several reasons, including “impaired balance and gait related to hip and knee disease or muscle weakness related to disuse,” says Dr. Wu. Additionally, people with inflammatory arthritis are frequently treated with corticosteroids, which exacerbate bone loss and raise fracture risks even further. Wear appropriate shoes or boots when you go outside, and accept a helping hand when offered.


Research shows stress can worsen disease activity and arthritis symptoms, so take some down time from the holiday hubbub. Go for a walk, meditate, listen to music, read a book, take a hot bath – anything that will transform marathon days into a truly happy and healthy holiday season.

Author: Jennifer Davis

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