If you suspect you have RA or have just been diagnosed you’ll feel like you have a mountain to climb just to find some helpful Rheumatoid Arthritis information. A big part of the wellness area of this blog is really about shining some light on life with RA and chronic illness and ultimately it’s about the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s not all bad. You or a friend or partner are at a stage where you just wanted some basic answers to some very relevant questions. I’ve tried to break those questions down to what I wanted to know about RA.
- What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system attacks its own body tissues. RA is not just limited to the body’s joints, other organs of the body can be affected as well.
- Do I have Rheumatoid Arthritis?
There are numerous signs and symptoms of RA that are mentioned here. RA is not something you should procrastinate about, don’t self diagnose. If you have concerns about your health you most seek medical advice as soon as possible. By all means, discuss your own research and concerns with your doctor, don’t just wait for them to develop conclusions. It’s your body, be proactive. Starting treatment early from the onset of the disease is the best possible way to combat the progression RA.
- Is Rheumatoid Arthritis a serious illness?
Yes, Rheumatoid Arthritis is a serious/chronic illness. In the worst cases it is a progressive disease, and can have a profound effect on general physical and mental well-being.
- Is there a cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Unfortunately no. But the good news is that there are treatments to slow the progress of RA. It is not uncommon to achieve drug induced remission. I’ve heard those sweet words several times in my twenty years and felt somewhat normal for extended periods.
- Who gets Rheumatoid Arthritis?
RA is more common among females than men and in older age groups. Although it can occur in people in their twenties, it often occurs later in life for men. The cause of Rheumatoid Arthritis is not well understood but genetics do factor. There is evidence that smoking also increases the risk of developing the disease.
- Is Rheumatoid Arthritis similar to Osteoarthritis?
RA is commonly confused with Osteoarthritis. Whilst the symptoms in joints are similar, Osteoarthritis is caused by mechanical wear and tear on joints. Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body’s joints.
- What is it like living with Rheumatoid Arthritis?
RA effects people very differently. Often a person will experience limited symptoms and progression of the disease. For others, RA can be much more aggressive. My Rheumatoid Arthritis lingers between moderate and severe. As I imagine for most people, my first year was very tough. I spent most of it on the couch in severe pain. Since being diagnosed and beginning treatment I am glad to say that my condition never returned to the severity of that first year. Day to day you are always on guard. You become very self aware both of symptoms and the potential of the onset of sudden pain. There is a kind of grieving process that you go through for the person you were. Being sad is a part of that and figuring out what I could and could not control was the first step for me. Remaining positive is key, I steer clear of the ‘dark side’ and I’m pleased to say that there are days, weeks or even months when I feel relatively pain free.
- Do I need treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Yes. Untreated RA risks joint damage and deformities. In advanced cases it can lead to severe deformities, especially of the hands. Early diagnosis and medical intervention are critical to harnessing the progression of RA.
- What type of treatments are available for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The good news is that RA treatment is progressing. There are quite a few medications available that can help stop Rheumatoid Arthritis getting worse and reduce the risk of further health concerns.
Treatments are often divided into two types of medication ‘disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)’ and ‘biological treatments’.
DMARDs, in the form of tablets, such as Methotrexate would normally be the first medicine given for Rheumatoid Arthritis, along with another DMARD and short term prescriptions of corticosteroids to relieve any pain.DMARDs block the effects of the chemicals released when the immune system attacks the joints. If you have just been diagnosed with RA, you will normally be given a combination of these DMARD tablets as they are particularly effective in easing symptoms and slowing down the progression of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Biological treatments have become the ‘go to’ treatment for a lot of cases. Biological drugs are injected every 2 weeks (similar to an insulin pen). They include etanercept, infliximab, adalimumab, certolizumab, golimumab, rituximab, abatacept and tocilizumab. Several new biologicals are currently at trial stage.
They are usually taken with methotrexate or another DMARD. Although the conventional wisdom seems to be that they are normally only used if DMARD medications alone have not been effective, I’ve been told that beginning Biological treatments early in treatment is the best way to combat RA. Biologicals work by stopping particular chemicals in the blood from activating your immune system to attack your joints.
- Are there side effects of RA medications?
Yes, there can be. Common issues with DMARDs are Photosensitivity (sensitivity to light eg. sunburn), headaches and nausea. There is a concern with the effects on liver function so regular blood tests are required. With Biologicals, the biggest issues I have experienced are headaches and lung infections. In my experience these have not been constant, so it is hard to attribute particular health issues as side effects although lung infections are something I have been prone to since beginning biological treatment.
- What about natural treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
There are plenty of herbal remedies out there trying to claim the prize. Outside of dietary changes I can’t speak for them. This piece might be more helpful. I personally would look more into complementary treatments like mind/body therapies such as tai chi, yoga and deep breathing. Relieving stress which is considered to be trigger for RA symptoms should be a priority. There are lots of options that will suit some more than others, eg. hydrotherapy, physio and supplements.
- WiIl I be able to work with Rheumatoid Arthritis?
This is a hard one to answer. RA is progressive, but it can also rear its ugly head when you least expect it. This makes a 9-5 job problematic but not impossible.
- Can I help a friend with Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Yes. Educate yourself about RA, not so you can find that magical cure (I’ve heard them all!) but so you can form a picture of what someone is going through. Offering support whether it be emotional or physical. For example, driving them to an appointment is way more helpful than suggesting treatments.
If a person is on medication for Rheumatoid Arthritis their immune system will be less effective, which means they are more vulnerable to infection than most people. Stay away if you are sick!
*I am not a medical professional. The above information is based on my own experience and research as a person that has had RA for twenty years. There is no substitute for professional medical advice.
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