The Cleveland Clinic states, “rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 1.3 million people in the United States.”* No age bracket is excluded, yet it is considered rare for those under age 18 to experience an onset of the disease.
Simply stated, arthritis equates to inflammation. Inflammation results in pain, swelling, warmth, and redness to the area. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic health condition. The distinguishing symptom of RA from other types of arthritis is that it “occurs in joints on both sides of the body” and has the ability to affect the “skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, nerves, or kidneys.”*
Chronic disease is no stranger to history. Our great ancestors experienced it. And here we are today, “chronic diseases have become one of the most important problems of the twenty-first century.”**
It was in the year 1859 that Sir Alfred Garrod, a British rheumatologist, coined the disease name ‘rheumatoid arthritis’ and provided illustrations depicting it. While assumed that RA had been around for quite some time, it had been largely grouped together with other illnesses. Garrod provided diagnostic criteria for various conditions previously jumbled together with RA as well as divided RA into acute, chronic and irregular forms.
Now-eliminated medications have paved the way to uncovering new, viable ones. Investigations and clinical trials have dove into unchartered and meaningful territory. We as individuals continue to learn to navigate ‘living with chronic illness’ given the information at hand– it is with great hope that future generations are gifted with progress, better health, and more answers.
Since RA falls into the autoimmune disease category, I find it important to gain a clear understanding of what that means.
As Johns Hopkins Medicine explains, “autoimmune disease happens when the body’s natural defense system can’t tell the difference between your own cells and foreign cells, causing the body to mistakenly attack normal cells.”*** More than 80 types of autoimmune disease are currently recognized and impact individuals at varying degrees.
While it has yet to be determined how autoimmune diseases definitively begin, certain risk factors have been known to increase the risk, such as: excess weight, smoking, hormones, environmental factors, abnormal immunity, certain medications, and genetics.
What I’ve learned thus far about chronic illness and disease is listening to your body should remain at the forefront. Respecting our bodies and the messages delivered through pain, discomfort, a lack of feeling, and more is vital.
Remember, it’s not only important to pay attention to your symptoms, but effectively translating them to your doctor (and if they don’t “hear you,” firing and finding a new one) is critical. Once you’re on the right doctor/patient team, it can be helpful to be receptive to tests in an effort to lead to answers about your health.
Through my eyes it’s only by digging deep and partnering with the right doctors that our individual health has the ability to be improved. Whether through lifestyle modifications, treatments/injections, or connecting with others that want to be there supporting us or those with similar conditions, it’s important to be proactive.
Take my own health experience as an example. I fell ill, stumbled, found what worked and what didn’t, fired my doctor, gained a new perspective, and am more proactive than ever. And through the years of twists and turns I’m hoping it benefits readers throughout the world. I don’t want others to suffer. If one or two pieces of advice I share or an expert answer in an interview I feature helps, I’m thankful for any improvement it has in a person’s life. I hope it minimizes pain, doubt, fear, and helps with your outlook.
Turning back the pages…
The evolution of investigating to treat illness is truly astounding to me. Back in the 1920s one of the original treatments for RA (which is controversial, has declined as a treatment option, and appears to have posed many unwelcomed side effects), was gold therapy. French physician Jacques Forestier was treating patients diagnosed with RA with gold salts in 1928. Gold salts as treatment was used significantly after World War I for tuberculosis.
In 1924 “gold salts became recognized as a useful therapeutic agent … in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis and reported favorable results.”**** Forestier relayed that “his attention was drawn to the use of gold salts in the treatment of some of the forms of chronic arthritis by the analogy of the clinical evolution of certain severe types of chronic rheumatism with that of tuberculosis.”****
The tie between tuberculosis and rheumatoid arthritis has been the topic of many discussions. Many of us are cognizant of tuberculosis. I remember hearing about it as a child. The CDC states that tuberculosis “is the leading cause of death by an infectious disease.”
A Spanish study concluded that “rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patient has 4-fold increased risk of TB disease as compared to general population.”*****
A snapshot into the future:
The CDC shares that “By the year 2040, an estimated 78.4 million (25.9% of the projected total adult population) adults aged 18 years and older will have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, compared with the 54.4 million adults in 2013–2015.”******
“Two-thirds of those with arthritis will be women.”******
So where do we go from here?
If you or someone you know does experience symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, I encourage you to seek out a rheumatologist to gain clarity, learn about treatment options, and rule out any other conditions.
Coming next: Peer pressure can have unhealthy consequences