Fatigue, joint pain, brain fog -- so you have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). The question remains, is RA an autoimmune disease, and what does it meant to me if it is?
We know RA is defined as a disease whereby one’s immune system doesn’t function properly, making it an autoimmune disease. Instead of fighting unhealthy cells, it mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body, causing inflammation, usually manifesting as painful swelling, in many affected parts of the body.
With countless ailments that can plague humans, determining the root cause and where disease stems from can be difficult to identify. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is just one example of disease that proves to be complex in nature.
Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis
Unfortunately, when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis there is no single diagnostic test and it can also present with varying symptoms. Typically though, symptoms will develop slowly over time and may even wax and wane. Joint pain and stiffness is usually on both sides of the body.
A combination of a physical exam, imaging, and blood work determines the diagnosis of this autoimmune disease. However, many people with rheumatoid arthritis have an elevated biomarker such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or C-reactive protein (CRP) level. These elevated levels can indicate that there is an inflammatory process going on in the body. In addition, specific blood work can reveal antibodies for rheumatoid arthritis which demonstrates an autoimmune response has taken place.
The following antibodies are associated with the diagnosis of RA:
- Rheumatoid factor (RF)
- Anti‐perinuclear factor (APF)
- Anti‐keratin antibodies (AKA)
- Anti‐filaggrin antibodies (AFA)
Causes of RA
Although there are several factors that contribute to the onset of rheumatoid arthritis; it is in fact an autoimmune disease. Scientists are not certain, but it is widely believed that genetics, viruses, diet and environmental factors all play a role in the onset of autoimmune diseases.
It is not a guarantee that RA is genetic. There are a handful of genes that can be associated with rheumatoid arthritis, but alone don’t account for its development. Some who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis have no known genetic connection. Others who have the gene mutations risks may never develop rheumatoid arthritis.
One reason scientists know that genes are not the main cause is from studies of identical twins. If RA was primarily genetically linked, both twins would develop the disease. Interestingly, among genetically identical twins, only about 12-15% will both develop rheumatoid arthritis.
Therefore, we can likely conclude that those who are genetically predisposed must encounter additional factors to create an autoimmune response. These factors can include, but are not limited to smoking, obesity, environmental triggers or certain viral and bacterial infections.
Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, optimal care should include medical, social and emotional support. There are several medication therapies for rheumatoid arthritis that can help regulate the autoimmune response and aid in decreasing inflammation. However, some of these medications can cause unwanted side effects.
When looking into RA treatment options, it is important not to discredit lifestyle changes. There are lifestyle factors that help mitigate the root cause triggers, symptoms and flares as well. Daily movement, nutrition, stress management and mindfulness can all impact inflammation within our bodies. In the lifelong management of this autoimmune disease, having a network of social and emotional support can be of great value.
Lifestyle changes might help in your journey with rheumatoid arthritis. Mymee can help you learn more about how digital tracking and personal health coaching can guide you to optimal wellness.