February 2nd is Groundhog day. The tradition means that if the groundhog sees its shadow, then winter will last another 6 weeks. Feb 2nd has been designated as a day of recognition for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and rheumatoid disease (RD) with a goal to help bring RA / RD out of the shadows. It’s cloudy here in Boulder, Colorado and no shadow means there will be an earlier spring. It is my wish for RA/RD as well.
In support of rheumatoid awareness day I’ve rounded up a number of links, which include an introduction to RA / RD facts and main symptoms, research exploring what causes RA / RD, and a few stories of recovery.
- The image above is courtesy of The Rheumatoid Patient Foundation.
Facts and News
- RA / RD is systemic, which means that it can affect the whole body including the heart and circulatory system, the nervous system, eyes, lungs, skin and more. Symptoms are related to inflammation and an autoimmune process.
- Arthritis is only one of the many symptoms of rheumatoid disease leading to a movement by people with the disease to change the name from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to rheumatoid disease (RD) or RA / RD.
- Arthritis in the hands is one of the symptoms of RA / RD but contrary to what many doctors are trained to believe, this is not the only symptom nor is it often the first symptom. In addition, when joints are affected it can be throughout the body, including in the spine, chest and larynx (joint of the voice box, which can change your voice). Arthritis is not seen in everyone with rheumatoid disease.
- Symptoms of arthritis do not always show up in joints on both sides of the body.
- Other symptoms include fatigue, fevers, swelling and stiffness, pain, weakness, and dry eyes.
- Symptoms are different for everyone – ranging from mild to severe; intermittent symptoms with periods of remissions between flares for some people and constant symptoms that do not dissipate for others; associated with swelling or not; with joint damage or not.
- Read more on Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior (see more below).
Kelly Young, blogger, former teacher and activist at Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior (RAW) has been living with RA / RD and founded the The Rheumatoid Patient Foundation. Her writing focuses on raising awarenesss in large part because so many of the symptoms remain unrecognized even in medical care.
- Kelly has invited her readers to share their RA / RD onset stories and every one is different. She has, however, found a number of common themes in these stories.
- She wrote recently about how optimism is not just for those of us in a position of privilege (such as when healthy and doing well), and also blogs about how to live like a warrior regardless of what disease you have. She emphasizes how each of us does it in our own way.
- Glenn Frey, singer and founding member of the Eagles, died last month at the age of 67. His death was in part due to rheumatoid arthritis, which was a diagnosis he kept secret. Kelly wrote about his death and has blogged about common myths about RA / RD, which is much more serious than is recognized even by many physicians.
What Causes RA / RD?
The question “what causes RA / RD” remains unanswered. Risk is only partly due to genetics. At least half of the cause comes from as yet unknown “environmental factors,” including difficult life experiences. One of the focuses of my blog is to explore the role of stress, trauma or the subtle perception of threat as a trigger for chronic illness as well as a potential cause. The hope this offers is that treating and reducing the perception of threat – which can be very subtle – can help decrease symptoms and flares in chronic illness, including perhaps RA/RD. It is also important because it is possible to work very specifically to heal and resolve the effects of trauma, even when it is something that has happened in the distant past.
- My grandfather had RA / RD and I’ve written about the role of difficult or overwhelming life events in childhood as risk factors for rheumatoid disease, which includes stress and trauma. These ideas draw from research I describe in The Chronic Illness Model.
- I’ve introduced the potential role of multigenerational trauma as a risk factor for RA / RD.
- Kelly at RAW writes about the onset of her symptoms in childhood following the stress of her parent’s divorce and wonders whether later traumatic events affected the onset of some of her other diagnoses as well. Stress is a common trigger for the onset of many chronic illnesses. And loss of a parent through divorce, separation or death is a striking risk factor for chronic illness that was identified in the adverse childhood experiences (ACE) studies. Author Donna Jackson Nakazawa writes about losing her own father at age 12 in a blog post on the ACEs Too High news site. Over 300 readers so far, many with chronic illnesses and other difficult symptoms, have described how knowing about ACEs is helping them cope and begin to heal from their effects.
- Diana writes about stress and the fact that the emotional trauma of a miscarriage triggered the onset of her RA / RD. Her post presents a rich collection of approaches for working with stress. Diana blogs about her journey of recovery from RA / RD at My R.A. Diary and the many different approaches, including diet, that she has used and tried.
Stories of Recovery From RA / RD
I find it inspiring to know that sometimes people recover from chronic illnesses – of all kinds. It tells me that not everything is as solid or as true as we believe – or have been taught. And it offers hope on my own journey with chronic fatigue. While our paths and the tools we try and test along the way are different, I find it helps to know the paths that others are forging. It inspires me, gives me new ideas for things to try. Below are some of the stories I’ve found about people who have recovered from RA / RD.
- Emergency room physician Joanna has recovered from most of her symptoms of RA / RD and Sjogren’s by combining many approaches, including the use of mindfulness, diet, and working with self-sabotaging thoughts.
- Many people with chronic diseases have been told by their doctors that dietary changes won’t make any difference. As a physician I never knew how powerful food was either. Although for some, dietary change doesn’t help, it is a game changer for others. Here are stories of improvement and recovery from RA / RD through diet:
- 10 stories of recovery from arthritis on the McDougall diet (ultra-low-fat vegan diet)
- Mort’s story (vegetarian diet, yoga and occasional water fasting)
- Katrina (the GAPS diet – meat, animal fats and broth, probiotics and more)
- Eileen (Autoimmune Paleo diet – similar to GAPS with additional restrictions)
- Linda (Paleo)
- New York Times article by journalist Susannah Meadows who describes her son Shepherd’s recovery (in part from an anti-inflammatory diet for treating leaky gut). A huge number of readers among the over 600 comments made, have also experienced significant relief or full recovery with dietary changes. In addition, some people experienced huge changes in remarkably short periods of time.
Rheumatoid Disease Images to Share & Pin
The following images come from The Rheumatoid Patient Foundation where you’ll find more facts and additional pictures and quotes to share.