What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? Why me?

 

When we talk about autoimmune diseases, we’re referring to multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia (don’t forget that’s autoimmune), type one diabetes, celiac disease, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, alopecia, scleroderma, sarcoidosis, and more.

There are over 100 different types of autoimmune diseases, each of which acts on the body in a different way.  Sometimes, a single organism is attacked, like the brain or nervous system as in multiple sclerosis, or the colon as in Crohn’s disease; other times multiple organs are the target, as in systemic autoimmune diseases such as RA, systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and scleroderma.

And there are times when a disease appears with mild symptoms and other times when a flare-up can be intense.

The autoimmune disease epidemic is a growing problem and affecting so many people.  Statistics show that in 1997 we had 9 million people diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and in 2017 the number is over 50 million people just in the US alone.  Of those people in the US the number one diagnosed autoimmune disease is RA and the second thyroid autoimmune Hashimoto’s.

People afflicted with RA can be found all over the world; most are in South America, Western European like Russia and the more densely populated Ukraine and Turkey.   

Three times as many women are afflicted with RA than men.  For women, RA most commonly begins between the ages of 30 and 60 while for men it often occurs later in life.

 What is an autoimmune disease?   

Normally the immune cells in your body help protect the body from harmful foreign substances that don’t belong in our body like bacteria, viruses, toxins and undigested food.  Like a splinter in your finger that triggers your immune system, the immune system sees the splinter as something that doesn’t belong and begins attacking.  The result is you experience heat, swelling, redness and pain in this area.  These are characteristics of an inflammation.  This is a good system when it works as it should.

But for people with an autoimmune disease the immune system can’t tell the difference between your normal body cells and these new foreign molecules.  The result is your immune system response is to develop antibodies (large proteins) that not only attack the foreign molecules but also your good body cells too.

When the immune system becomes confused it is becomes hyperactive and we experience our RA flare ups.  This can be detected in a blood test that shows the antibodies in your system are elevated.

Because RA is a systemic disease it can affect the whole body.  It attacks organs such as the heart and lungs, or tissues like the muscles, cartilage and ligaments but mainly it attacks the tissues within the joints.

RA causes chronic swelling and pain that is sometimes severe and with time it can cause permanent disability and damage.

We classify RA into three stages:

1. Stage one is also called the silent autoimmunity, this is when the antibodies are elevated, but there’s no loss of function.

2. Stage two is called autoimmune reactivity and this is when the antibodies are elevated and there is loss of function but no grave destruction of tissue yet.

3. Stage three is where it’s actually called autoimmune disease, and this is where the antibodies are elevated, there are significant symptoms, and a significant loss of function.  This may be the only stage recognized by conventional medicine.

These diseases do not develop overnight and sadly determining whether someone has an autoimmune disease or even testing for autoimmunity isn’t easy.  Unfortunately that is why there are so many people in the world walking around with an undiagnosed autoimmune condition that is frustrating to both the individual and their doctors.