Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the joints including those in the hands and feet. It is an auto immune disease in which the body’s immune system which normally protect its health by attacking foreign substances like bacteria and viruses mistakenly attacks the joints. This creates inflammation that causes the tissue to thicken resulting in swelling and pain around those joints. Most commonly affected are hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. RA can also affect the body’s cardiovascular or respiratory system which is called a systemic disease. Systemic means the entire body which can be deadly. We as warriors believe it should be called Rheumatoid Disease to cut down on the confusion.
Just to let everyone know arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints causing pain and stiffness that can get worse with age and osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs when flexible tissue at the end of bones wear down. It is the most common form of arthritis. I included this because many think this the condition that we have. But what we have is known as an auto immune disease.
The cause is not understood but it is known that an abnormal response of the immune system plays a role in the inflammation and joint damage that happens. There is also evidence hormones and environment plays a part. None of this is our fault as we often find ourselves feeling guilty for having this disease.
The symptoms include pain, tenderness, swelling and stiffness of the joints. Joint tenderness that’s worse in the morning. There is also fever, fatigue and possibility of loss of appetite. Early rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect your smaller joints first particularly the joints that attach your fingers to your hands and your toes to your feet. As the disease progresses, symptoms often spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. In most cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of your body. But also included and can show symptoms are the mouth, skin, (ongoing high levels of inflammation effects lungs, blood vessels, heart and bone marrow). Each of us is different so each symptom can definitely be vary.
Diagnosing can be difficult but there are several ways this can be done. First there will be talk about the medical history, a physical exam, blood test which includes: erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or Sed Rate), C-Reactive Protein (CRP) which are markers for inflammation and Antibodies anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (CCP) and the Rheumatoid Factor. Finally there can be X-rays and MRIs which will show joint damage and erosion. Please note that blood test does not always show positive for RA, there are many of us who are what is known as sero-negative: Seronegative rheumatoid arthritis is the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis without the presence of certain antibodies in the patient’s blood. Finding a good rheumatologist is key in your diagnosing and your ongoing care. It is also key to be your own best advocate in your fight with this disease.
Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis for many is a very challenging thing. No one thing works for any of us and finding the right thing is trial and error. With treatment comes many, many side effects along with the effort to find the one thing that will work best and many find that can be temporary at best. The challenge can be frightening when it comes to what we have to put in our bodies to stop the progression of this disease but it done in an effort to save our lives. The goal of our treatment is to stop the progression of the disease, relieve the pain, prevent joint damage, improve physical function and to reduce long term complications but with all of that, it is still a struggle getting it right.
These are a list of the medications that are offered to us:
DMARDS – given at first
These all have very serious side effects and depletes our immune system causing us to be susceptible to severe infections, constant sinus infections and especially lung infections. There is a great chance for liver and kidney damage, reduced ability to make new blood cells and more than not chance of getting high blood pressure and high cholesterol which causes us to be on more medication. This is just a few of the things that could possibly happen while taking these drugs. So you see the effects of trying to keep this disease in control can be far reaching. It wrecks havoc on our entire bodies as well as our emotion state.
This blog is to put this disease in perspective for those who really do not understand what it is and how it works. My hope is to educate everyone about it and to remove any doubts they may have about how serious it truly is. For those of us who have this disease, it is not easy but what we want most besides beating this disease is the support and understanding. Yes it is true, there are those in our lives that do not understand the tragedy of this disease. They do not realize that it a disease not a condition with many implications. So my hope is with this blog I have opened the eyes and hearts of many.
Thank you reading my blog dedicated to myself and the many RA warriors out there.