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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Is RA Worse than Lupus?

Whether it's RA or lupus, everyone's experience with autoimmunity is unique and manifests differently. In comparing the two diseases though, one might wonder, is RA worse than lupus?

When comparing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus SLE (lupus), it’s important to set the foundation of what each one entails. Symptoms in autoimmune diseases do often overlap; Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Lupus, are prime examples of this, as they share a number of similarities.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation to the lining of joints, which leads to joint damage and debilitating pain. In some cases, this joint inflammation can also cause bone erosion and joint deformity as well as damage to the lungs, heart, skin, eyes, kidneys, and blood vessels. 

In most cases, rheumatoid arthritis first affects small joints such as those in the hands and feet. As it progresses, it can spread to the joints of the wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, and hips. RA affects more than 1.3 million people in the US, making it the most common type of autoimmune arthritis. Of this total, about 75% of people living with RA are women.

What is Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes pain and chronic inflammation. It can also affect the skin, kidneys, brain, blood cells, and heart. Although anyone can have lupus, including children and teens, women account for 90% of all cases.

Triggers for lupus include: genetics, environment, diet, medications, female hormones, and sunlight- and often a combination of these. Most people experience a mild version of lupus in which periodic flare ups are followed by periods without symptoms. In severe cases, symptoms can be debilitating.

Similarities Between RA and Lupus Symptoms

  • Both lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are part of a larger category of conditions known as autoimmune disease, where your own immune system mistakenly attacks your body.
  • RA and lupus both manifests in the joints. Usually multiple joints are involved and present with pain, swelling, inflammation, and stiffness.
  • Fatigue is common in both conditions and may sometimes be coupled with overall body weakness as well.
  • Both conditions are statistically more common in women than in men.
  • Both diseases are known to flare, where the symptoms become more pronounced and then return to the baseline state.

Differences Between RA and Lupus

  • While both affect the joints, RA joint pain is usually worse in the morning while Lupus pain tends to be the same throughout the day. 
  • RA joint pain can lead to joint deformities, whereas joint pain and stiffness with Lupus does not cause deformities.
  • Lupus patients are sensitive to the sun, which often triggers a skin rash; photosensitivity is not common in RA.
  • Lupus attacks multiple tissues, and sometimes organs of the body. The most common affected organ is the kidneys. Because Lupus has potential organ involvement it is the leading cause of death in young women aged 19-49 in the US. RA targets the lining of the joints and rarely has organ involvement in the progression of this disease, and does not lead to death.
  • Lupus can have a rash associated with it, whereas RA may have redness only in the specific joints that are inflamed. 

Both of these conditions present numerous opportunities to take a look deeper into identifying triggers for these symptoms. Since they are part of the autoimmune class of disease, it shows that there is imbalance in the body where it’s attacking itself as if it were infected by a virus or bacteria. 

So, is RA Worse than Lupus?

To answer the original question, neither disease is “worse” than the other, but they are different, and require treatment accordingly.  Patients with each diagnosis can have a mild or severe form of either disease. Because Lupus is a cause of mortality, effective treatment is more dire than RA which already has effective treatments. 

At Mymee, we can set you on a treatment path unique to you, by tracking your symptoms and lifestyle factors to take a deeper look at what is influencing these periods of flare versus remission. Could certain foods be increasing inflammation and therefore increasing pain?  By looking at nutrition as a foundational building block of health, we can start to establish ways to help manage the symptoms associated with RA and Lupus.

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