When you’re on a college campus or climbing your way up the corporate ladder in the professional realm, acronyms become commonplace talk amongst your colleagues. Did you get that TPS report from our RBD referring to our COE award? Did our EOC grades get posted by our TA? You have to be careful though when speaking in acronyms because some may have multiple meanings. Such is the case with RA. No, we’re not talking about your resident advisor from your glory days in the freshman dorm. We’re talking about a more serious matter with the chronic inflammatory disorder known as Rheumatoid Arthritis, a chronic disease that affects over a million people usually over the age of 40 and more common among women.
Your immunological cells, your fighter cells, usually ward off foreign pathogens like bacteria and viruses that would cause harm to your body. These natural defenses sometimes make mistakes and start attacking your own, vital cells, causing inflammation and even complete destruction of certain cells. This “mistaken identity” causes autoimmune diseases, such as RA. With RA, the immune system attacks the body’s joints, creating inflammation that causes the tissue lining the inside of your joints, called the synovium, to thicken and swell. The synovium is where lubrication is produced to help joints move smoothly in motion.
The combination of reduced lubrication and increased inflammation causes pain in and around the joints and can even lead to more serious damage to the cartilage, the elastic tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint and in the bones themselves. Joints can become loose with damage from RA and become unstable due to lack of mobility. Even joint deformity, an irreversible condition, can occur.
Think about the hardships of living with RA. It affects everything in your body dealing with motion: hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. This means each keystroke on the computer, every twist of a bottle cap, every time you sit and stand at your desk, and each button you pull through your shirt comes with a jolt of pain that came from something out of your control. The causes of RA and many autoimmune diseases are still not fully understood, although the mechanism of action for the abnormal response in the body is understood. The Arthritis Foundation points out that genes, hormones, and environmental factors are involved, but nothing has been pinpointed as the ultimate culprit.
The environmental factors that cause physiological ailments aren’t the only problem: it’s actually intertwined with the emotional factors that cause the social ailments of living with RA and other autoimmune diseases. The physical pain of dealing with a chronic condition, meaning something you deal with that persists for a long time or constantly reoccurs, can cause serious changes in your mood and outlook on life. Even the thought of living with a debilitating illness can be just as debilitating as the illness. That may seem like a small play of words, but it actually plays out with patients struggling with RA. A study from the behavioral health department at Penn State University and published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that a positive attitude linked to fewer rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, showing that one’s mood can be associated with pain fluctuations. Basically, patients with more negative moods experienced greater pain or discomfort while those with more positive moods experienced fewer moments of pain or discomfort
This link, this binding connection, between one’s emotional state and physical well-being is key! Healthcare providers can help alleviate symptoms of RA by targeting depression and negative emotions associated with the diagnosis or progressed disease state. It puts just as much focus on the emotional component of living with chronic illnesses as it does the actual bodily harm that comes with the chronic illness, which further plays into the theme that patients are people too… not just lab values or disease condition.
CNN Health News recently published a report on alternative therapies for Rheumatoid Arthritis in combination (not as a replacement) with regular drug medications. Dr. Christopher Iliades points out that dietary supplements like Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Gamma-Linolenic Acids, flexibility and calming exercises like Yoga and Tai Chi, holistic remedies like ginger, green tea, tumeric, and boswellia, and even Acupuncture can help fight inflammation to relieve symptoms and reduce future flare-ups.
You see, there’s more that meets the eye to RA and it does have multiple meanings aside from those pesky nerds waiting to get catch you sneaking into the dorms after hours. RA represents a mass of people, with goals, dreams, and feelings that should never be diminished nor put in a box. Find strength in your weaknesses and get a positive outlook on life! There’s much to be gained with research, support groups, and online communities. You can find more information for support and education with the Arthritis Foundation or check out PPA’s website for research opportunities.