Tag Archives: immune system

Rheumatoid Arthritis: RA Factor: What Does it Really Mean

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What is an RA factor? Well to start, RA factor is a protein. This protein is made by the immune system to attack certain bacteria and viruses. The blood test to measure the RA factor  is used to help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases, viruses and infections.   What I was told by my rheumatologist and believed,  was that my elevated RA factor along with my swollen joints indicated rheumatoid arthritis. Those two factors alone do NOT necessarily mean you have RA. In my case it did not.

An elevated RA factor can indicate increased autoimmune activity in the body that does not necessarily relate to rheumatoid arthritis. It is extremely important that all  the symptoms be considered before a diagnosis is made and no one test can indicate disease. High levels of RA factor can be found with patients suffering from viruses like Epstein-Barr and diseases like Hepatitis.

Other tests that should be done at the same time include:

  • ANA                          (Anti Nuclear Antibody)
  • Anti-CCP                 (Anti-cyclic citrullinated Peptide)
  • CRP                            (C-reactive Protein)
  • CBC                            (Complete Blood Count)
  • ESR                            (Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate or Sed Rate)

I will discuss these tests in future posts.

Misdiagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis: My Lyme Disease Journey Continues

A little more than a year and a half ago, I started treatment for Lyme disease. After 10 years of misdiagnosis and treatment for rheumatoid arthritis my immune system was seriously compromised.

I would love to tell you that I simply took some antibiotics and instantly felt better, but unfortunately that has not been the case. My body was in pretty bad shape. By the time I finally got the correct diagnosis, I not only had to try and kill these Lyme bacteria, but I had to rebuild my immune system that we had been suppressing for 10 years.

What I didn’t know back then that in addition to Lyme disease, I also had what is now known as protozoa rheumatica. Treating both the disease and the biofilm has made a huge difference in how I feel.

For the first time in over 10 years my SED rate is normal. My RA factor (RF)which had been as high as 718 is not down to 115. It has been going down by over 100 points every 8 weeks. That means that 7 weeks from now it will be normal if it follows the same pattern. I have finally turned the corner and feel like I have made some real progress in getting well.

I’m not running any marathons, but I am able to dress myself once again and I can roll over in bed, something I struggled with 18 months ago. It’s the little things as well as the big that became impossible. I could not cut my own food, cover myself with a sheet, let a lone a blanket. I couldn’t put socks and shoes on and forget about tying them.

The pain was more than I had bargained for as well. My joints swelled to a point where at times I could barely recognize them. Here is a picture of my ankle then (scary, isn’t it?)

Swollen ankle

and here it is today (much better, I’d say).This is the same ankle that was the first sign of problem. And the same ankle that the rheumatologist shot up with steroids. (which by the way, did not help)  As you can see I could have picked up the coffee table a bit before taking the picture, but my priorities have changed a lot since this all began.  Clean is nice, but not as important as it used to be.

My ankle now

The difference feels amazing.

There were times that I was genuinely scared. It took me a long time to get this diagnosis and I had finally trusted my instincts and knew deep down that this was the right path for me, but years of being told that I was wrong, that this was RA had taken a toll. It was in the darkest of times that I found myself doubting my choice. After all there had been so many doctors telling me that this was RA, how could I be absolutely sure that this doctor was right. I kept hearing the warnings of my first rheumatologist in my head, “We don’t want you to end up in a wheelchair. Do we?”

Unfortunately that is exactly what happened. Last year, my walking had become so bad and so painful that I had to rent a wheelchair for my nephews graduation. It was a scary time. I had come to a place where I didn’t trust any doctor, but I desperately needed help. I finally came to the decision that I had given the other doctors 10 years to help me and look what happened. I needed to give this one at least a reasonable amount of time to do the same. It became increasingly frightening when every six weeks my RA factor kept going up.

It took a fair amount of resolve to keep going and continue trusting my gut. It wasn’t until over a year into treatment that my RA factor started to go down. It has been steadily going down every since.

I no longer need a wheelchair and the simple act of walking is no longer painful. I do use a cane for balance, but I am hoping that soon I will be able to get rid of that as well.

I don’t know how much longer I will be fighting this battle.

There will be scars.

But in the end I will survive and hopefully help a few people, who see themselves in my story.

 

Misdiagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): My Lyme Disease Story

As some of you may have heard, I just recently found that I was misdiagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I have Lyme Disease.

Anyone who has followed this blog probably knows that I thought that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) for over 9 years. I have always had some doubt about what was going on with my body and the effectiveness of the treatments the doctors were prescribing. But I trusted my doctors more than I trusted my instincts. My story is a cautionary tale for anyone who has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

Let me start by saying that we live in rural Rhode Island. We have a small 3/4 acre wooded lot. All sorts of wild life can be found in our yard at any given time and there is no shortage of deer that visit our property. We moved out here to raise our family in a quiet, serene place with good schools and friendly neighbors. Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad, and the deer carry ticks that carry Lyme Disease.

Each member of my family at one time or another has had Lyme Disease. It is not uncommon to be outside for only a few moments and pick up one of the poppy seed-sized ticks. For the most part we have all either tested positive with Lyme Disease or the tick if we were able to keep it tested positive with the disease.

9 years ago I had been bitten by a tick. At the time, I was tending to my newborn son, and had two older boys to watch over as well. In prior exposures to the disease, I had felt “flu like symptoms” and that was my cue to get tested. I don’t know if it was adjusting to three boys and 2 jobs or if I was just too busy to notice, but I really don’t remember any “flu like symptoms”.

It started with my ankle. It hurt and was swollen so I went to the urgent care center where they X-rayed it and told me they could find nothing wrong with me. The doctor prescribed an anti-inflammatory and gave me and air-cast. We were going with the assumption that I must have sprained my ankle even though I couldn’t remember doing anything out of the ordinary.

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Walnuts for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Walnuts are a tasty way to add crunch to your favorite yogurt or salad.

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They also have the added benefit of being loaded with omega-3 fatty acids which are great for fighting inflammation. Only 1/4 cup of walnuts provides you with almost 91% of you daily value of omega-3 fatty acids.  Walnuts also have an antioxidant compound called ellegic acid which supports the immune system. Walnuts are rich in manganese and copper as well. Walnuts are a good source of plant protein. They are rich in fiber, B vitamins and vitamin E. I love to just snack on just a handful. It keeps me feeling full and helps with inflammation; the perfect combination in the afternoon.

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Aspartame and Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Before you reach for that diet soft drink, you may want to rethink what is in that beverage.  The sugar substitute aspartame, used in most diet soft drinks does not in fact help in weight loss and there is mounting evidence that it may actually cause weight gain.  More important to someone with rheumatoid arthritis, aspartame may cause inflammation and joint pain.

According to Woodrow C. Monte, PhD., Director of the Food Science and Nutrition Laboratory at Arizona State University, “when aspartmae is metabolized, it releases methyl alcohol (wood alcohol), a known toxin that is highly dangerous to humans.” Dr. Monte warns that “once in your cells, methyl alcohol converts to formaldehyde, a cancer-causing agent.  Recent studies in Europe suggest that aspartame consumption can result in the accumulation of formaldehyde in the brain damaging the central nervous system and the immune system.

Aspartame is found not only in diet products.  It can also be found in cough medicine, toothpaste and even some sports drinks and juice drinks.

Aspartame has been linked to several autoimmune diseases including lupus, fibromyalgia, multiple sclorosis and rheumatoid arthritis even at low doses.  It has been tied to migranes, chronic fatigue, asthma,  diabetes,tinnitis and depression.

According to the Aspartme Information Center, aspartame is approved by the US Food and Drug Adminstration and the Joint Expert Committe on Food Adititives of the World Health Organization. It is consumed in over 6,000 products and by 200 million people worldwide.  It is found in everything from cough medicine to soft drinks.

For me personally, I would rather err of the side of caution and avoid aspertame. My body has gone through enough turmoil. I want to nourish with food that will aid in healing and avoid ingesting anything that may potentially cause harm. You make up your own mind.

5 Tips for Dealing with Arthritis Pain

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Everyone from time to time needs ways to cope with pain. Here are a few tips I use to help me deal the pain.

Meditation

Meditation can lower your blood pressure, enhance your immune system, relax muscles and help you deal with stress. And lets face it pain is stressful. 

Start  with just 5 to 10 minutes a day and gradually work up to 20 to 30 minutes a day.   You will be surprised what a difference it will make in how you feel. 

Find a quiet place where there are not likely to be any interruptions.  I try to get in some time before the kids wake up.

Sit in a comfortable position.  Close your eyes.  Focus on your breath; the coolness as you breathe in and the warm exhale.  Try to keep the inhalation and exhalation the same length.  Start with your feet and focus on the sensation of relaxation.  Now move up to your legs, stomach, arms, and shoulders,. With each exhale feel the  tension leave your body.  Now relax the corners of your mouth, the outer corners of your eyes relax outward.  Stay like this focusing on the inhalation and exhalation, try to empty your mind. 

It takes practice to be able to shut out the world for a little while, but it is well worth the effort.

Pamper Yourself

Sit down and enjoy a nice warm cup of tea.  Take a long soothing soak in the tub. (provided getting in and out is not an issue)  Try a nice paraffin wax for your hands.  The warmth feels wonderful and your hands end up so soft and smooth when you are done.   Schedule a spa day with your best friend.  Indulge in an afternoon nap. Do something that makes you feel good.

Move your Body

Exercise is a must to help with pain reduction.  Find an exercise that you enjoy and you are more likely to stick with it.  Start with something that you can do now. Begin with  some stretches and add a few isometrics to gain some strength gradually increasing the time and level of activity.   Be careful to listen to what your body is telling  you.  Do not continue if you are experiencing pain.  Remember that consistency is the key.

Laugh

We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine.  Well it turns out that laughter is exactly what we need when dealing with pain.  Laughter causes the pituitary gland in the brain to release pain suppressing compounds.  So watch a funny movie or tell a good joke !   

Listen to your favorite music

Studies have shown a significant reduction in pain and depression for patients with arthritis who listen to music. So crank up the tunes and enjoy!

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): Which Treatment Option is Best?

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Over the past several months I have received comments that I think need to be addressed in a much longer format than a comment response.  The comments are related to treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis and which treatment is best.

We are fortunate enough to have many options available to us today to manage our rheumatoid arthritis (RA).   Traditional medicine offers everything from NSAIDs (Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug) like Advil and  DMARD s(Disease Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs) such as Plaquenil, Arava, Methotrexate, Gold, and Cyclosporine to biologics like Remicade, Enbrel and Humira. There is a growing trend toward alternative medicine as a  solution to  deal with this disease.  Each option has its benefits, risks and side effects.

NSAIDs are a class of drug that are used primarily to treat inflammation and mild to moderate pain.  These medications vary in potency and  include the brand names Advil, Motrin, Naproxen, Anaprox and Celebrex.  Between 10% to 50% of patients are unable to tolerate NSAIDs because of their side effects. These side effects include upset stomach, stomach pain, and diarrhea.  About 15% of people on long term NSAID treatment develop ulcers of the stomach and/or the duodenum.

DMARDs cover a variety of different of drugs.  Anti-malarial drugs such as Plaquenil (Hydroxycloroquine) are considered a DMARD and were initially used to treat malaria. It was discovered to help  arthritis when patients noticed an improvement in their arthritis symptoms while taking plaquenil for malaria.  Plaquenil effects the immune system but doctors do not know how it works for rheumatoid arthritis. Arava (leflunomide) interferes with genes in developing immune cells. When taking Arava, liver monitoring for toxicity is required.  You should not take this drug if you are planning to get pregnant or are currently pregnant because of birth defects. The most common side effects for patients taking Arava are rash, nausea, hair loss, liver enzyme elevation and anemia. Methotrexate is a chemotherapy drug that initially was used to treat acute leukemia.  Methotrexate (MTX) has become the gold standard for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  Methotrexate interferes with the growth of cells in the bone marrow.  The most common side effects from methotrexate include stomach upset, hair loss, diarrhea, and  mouth sores.  Folic acid is given while taking this medication to reduce the side effects.  Liver function monitoring is necessary to watch for toxicity. Methotrexate should also not be taken if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant. Injectable Gold has been shown to improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis however toxicity is common and constant monitoring in necessary.  Side effects include rash, diarrhea, conjunctivitis and marrow suppression. Cyclosporine is a medication that is used primarily for the prevention of rejection of transplanted organs.  It is effective for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis because it stops an overactive immune system from attacking the joints. Side effects can be severe and include hypertension, kidney problems, headache, nausea and diarrhea.

Biologic response modifiers (biologics) are the latest treatment option for rheumatoid arthritis pain and inflammation.  They work by blocking the tumor necrosis factors(TNF) components of the immune system.  People with RA have too much TNF in their bodies and it overwhelms the immune systems response to inflammation. Biologics such as Enbrel, Remicade and Humira are genetically engineered proteins that binds to and deactivates the TNF molecules before they can do damage.  The risks in taking this class of drug include serious infection including sepsis and tuberculosis, nervous system diseases such as multiple scholosis, allergic reactions, lymphoma and congestive heart failure.  Because these drugs are fairly new their long term side effects are not known.

There has been much debate on the effectiveness of complimentary and alternative treatments options for rheumatoid arthritis.  These treatments include GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid), DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid, Tai Chi, herbal supplements and acupuncture. There are many more complimentary and alternative treatment options that will be discussed in future posts.

GLA (Gamma-linolenic Acid) is an essential fatty acid found primarily in plant oils. It is found in borage  oil and black currant seed. In preliminary testing it has shown to reduce morning stiffness and swelling however studies have been small to date and additional research would provide more information. DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) is an omega 3 fatty acid found in cold water fish. Several studies have shown that DHA reduces inflammation but not the progression of the disease. The movements of Tai Chi improve strength, flexibility and balance. There is no indication that Tai Chi effects the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Acupuncture in thought to stimulate the release of chemicals called endorphins that block pain. Acupuncture is very effective in treating chronic pain like that in rheumatoid arthritis. The list of supplements as an alternative solution to conventional medicine for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis include vitamin E, MSM, copper, manganese, vitamin C, selenium, zinc, bromelain, ginger, turmeric and boswellia.  These alternatives have proven to help in inflammation and in some cases joint damage.

The benefits of using conventional medicine for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis are that knowledgeable doctors using this method are readily available and the medications work for many people. These medications have significantly improved the lives of many with rheumatoid arthritis. The downside to this treatment option is the side effects can vary from mild to severe and some long term effects are not even known.

The benefits to choosing an alternative medical solution for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis is that the side effects to these treatment are few and are less damaging to the body.  The disadvantage to complimentary and alternative treatments are that finding a qualified medical professional that can help guide you through all the options available can be a challenge and there is debate on whether or not they can help with joint damage.

Ultimately the choice for a treatment option is a personal one.  What matters is what works for you. Everyone has their own body chemistry.  What works for one person may not work for another. The advantage that we have today is that we have options, many options, and if something is not working for us we can try in another direction until we find our own solution. It is not up to me or anyone else to decide what is best for you and your body.  Trust yourself to figure out what is best for you.

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