“Just Arthritis…”

“Just” Arthritis…

          Yes these two small words are quite possibly the most heinous example of  blatant ignorance. There exists a host of despicable diseases out there that ravage the body, mind and soul. Each causing pain and heartache regardless of what label the medical community hangs on it.  Chronic pain, disability, the loss of self and the abandonment of hope are just a few of the things that can result from chronic ailments of any kind and/or origin. Anyone who suggests one disease or ailment is worse than another lacks knowledge, experience and/or compassion. There are numerous factors that affect how a person copes with the ailment with which they are trying to survive.  So many exist that I will come back to that factor a little later.

          A doctor who dares  utter these words should be run from at warp speed, for he or she has zero knowledge or competence in the field of auto-immune disorders. The fact is that there are numerous types of arthritis that affect multiple areas of the body at various times in a person’s life. Although arthritis is commonly thought to be an “old person’s disease”, it is not. As a society, we have been groomed to think of it as a common and inevitable ailment for all old persons. One Hollywood skit after another since it’s very inception has used arthritis as a gag joke downplaying the seriousness of the disease. Most of us can remember the one liners from some old codger predicting a storm because his “rheumatism” was acting up. It was meant to be funny, it was meant to personify a specific type of character and we accepted the misinformation because we had no reason to counter it. Therefore, when someone says they have arthritis we often have a skewed view of the reality of that diagnosis.

          First, there are numerous types of arthritis making the term more of a generic label than a definitive diagnosis. The two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The first usually results from life-long wear and tear on the  joints. This type of arthritis can also result from an injury. The cartilage between the joints cushions the intersection of the bones so that the bones do not rub directly together. There is also a “pillow” of fluid around the joints termed synovial fluid. Over time the stress on the joints wears down the cartilage and causes an inflammation of this fluid causing swelling and pain. This is the type of arthritis many people could develop in the later years of their life; however, the onset of the disease can happen at any age.

          Arthritis is usually symmetrical, meaning if you have it in your  right shoulder then you likely have it in your left shoulder as well. Hands, feet, knees, shoulders, and hips are the most common points of joint destruction. However, there are levels of severity that range from causing mild pain and deformity to severe pain, massive deformity, disability, and possible death.

          The second most common type of arthritis is rheumatoid and this is where the auto-immune system turns on the body that it is supposed to protect. It can develop at any age and at varying degrees of severity. It can hit one or more joints and organs. Additionally, the activity of disease has a host of consequent ailments that create further pain, deformity and/or disability,

          For some unknown reason, the immune system wrongly interprets the body’s normal systems as invaders and it attacks them aggressively. The specialists, rheumatologists, do not know what triggers the immune system in one person to go haywire and not in another. Sure, they have identified all kinds of amino acids and other chemical compounds within a person who has rheumatoid arthritis that are misbehaving but they have not figured out why these chemicals are not doing their job properly. However, there exists a plethora of medications and treatments that target each of the chemicals and/ or hormones that are identified as misbehaving in some fashion. Arthritis is a multibillion dollar business as are all other chronic diseases.

           All of the disease modifying medications in the mainstream market suppress the immune system or attempt to control the “discomfort” resultant from the activity of the disease. All of the medications are toxic to varying degrees. The worse your arthritis is, the more out of control it has become the more dangerous and expensive the medications become. Presently, the rising star in the treatment of arthritis and other auto-immune disorders is something called a biological. Hundreds of commercials flood our televisions advertising the miraculous results of these biologics. Each commercial ends with an equally long list of possible side-effects. The biologics do work for many people because they suppress the immune system that is ravaging the body. Anyone considering these medications should make certain they are fully informed of all the possible side-effects before beginning treatment. A few problems arise with this new star in the medical community. Suppressing the immune system is very dangerous because it leaves the body open to all types of cancers and other diseases. Some patients have developed serious infections that have claimed their lives. Additionally, this family of miracle drugs are very expensive, $1500 a shot, which causes the insurance companies to recoil and find any number of reasons to deny treatment to the patient. Since the average prescription for biologicals is two injections per month, the insurers are less inclined to approve the drug. The hope of the medical community is that these biologics will replace the more toxic drugs traditionally used to suppress the immune system like steroids and cancer medications such as methotrexate.           Both these medications suppress the immune system, are far cheaper than the biologics and have a host of deadly side effects. Nevertheless, they generally do the same job as the biologics so the doctors have to fight the insurance companies to obtain the less dangerous option for their patients. If the doctor is competent and a stellar human being then he/she will fight the insurance companies so that you can obtain the better treatment. It took me a lifetime to find such a stellar human being, Dr. Lori Lavelle. she is the best rheumatologist with which I have ever worked.

          If you are looking to conduct further research into your specific type of arthritis then I recommend utilizing the databases of the Arthritis foundation or the Mayo Clinic. One positive factor to the rampant number of people living with this disease is the amount of research available to the general public. The best advocate for you is you. If you go on this journey of fact finding, you will discover that arthritis is anything but, “just”.


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