I recently heard a story about a woman who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and treated with dangerous, powerful, immune-modulating drugs for almost a year.
But it turns out, she really had the far more common type of arthritis — osteoarthritis.
Unfortunately, this kind of misdiagnosis happens all the time. Which is a huge problem because of the dangerous, heavy duty drugs used to treat RA.
So, today, I’ll give you some information to help you get the right diagnosis. Of course, I’ll also provide my helpful suggestions for effective, natural approaches to treat the symptoms of both RA and OA…
Wear-and-tear versus an autoimmune attack
Let’s start by talking about the more common form of arthritis, OA. This condition is caused by chronic inflammation and wear-and-tear on your joints. It’s associated with aging and injury, and most common among middle-aged and older people.
Overall, experts estimate that 12 percent of the U.S. adult population has it. And symptoms can include stiffness, pain, and decreased range of motion — which often flare up after heavy activity.
Interestingly, the modern rate of OA is twice as high as the rate experienced during the prehistoric, agrarian, and industrial eras — even though we live far less strenuous lives. In my view, these higher rates directly relate to the modern epidemic of excessive exercise and running on hard, artificial surfaces.
RA, by comparison, is a far less common condition — experts estimate just 0.6 percent of the population has it. And it typically strikes younger people between the ages of 30 and 50.
In addition, it’s not related to wear-and-tear on the joints. It’s considered an “autoimmune disorder,” in which the body’s immune system mistakes its own tissues for foreign invaders. When it mounts an attack to destroy these “invaders,” it often first targets the innocent synovial tissues that line the joints.
These attacks cause joint inflammation, pain, swelling, and even disfiguration. And they most commonly affect the joints in the hands and feet — usually to an equal degree on both sides of the body. So, if your joint pain and inflammation are one-sided, it’s important to look for other causes.
Additionally, RA symptoms can also include fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and nodules. These symptoms typically flare up in the morning or after a period of low activity.
As the condition progresses, RA can also affect other parts of the body, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, and vascular system. And in rare cases, it can affect the lymphatic system, GI tract, or urinary system.
The cause of RA is uncertain
We still as yet know very little about what causes RA, though experts suspect a number of possible triggers, including:
Women get RA two to three times more often than men, and it can affect children as young as infants.
Getting an accurate diagnosis
Fortunately, there are a number of blood tests that can help you and your doctor determine if you have RA instead of OA, most notably:
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, or sed rate)
- C-reactive protein (CRP)
Elevated levels of either one can indicate the presence of an inflammatory process in the body. I encourage you to work with your doctor to interpret your levels, figure out what a safe level would be for you, and develop a plan to reduce these markers of chronic inflammation.
Other common blood tests look for rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies.
Traditional x-rays of the affected joints can be helpful tools in making a diagnosis. MRI may also be used in clinical assessment, but it’s very expensive and not as appropriate for the smaller joints typically involved at the beginning of the disease.
Overtreatment is a major problem
It’s sad to say but overtreatment of RA occurs in about 20 to 30 percent of cases. So, I suggest making sure you and your doctor map out a long-term treatment plan based on the severity of your symptoms and your prognosis.
In addition, keep in mind that there are a number of factors influencing your outcomes, including:
- The presence of a certain HLA gene (HLA-DRB1*04/04)
- High blood levels of rheumatoid factor
- Involvement of a large number of different joints
- Involvement beyond just the joints
- Being younger than 30 years at the time of diagnosis
- Being female
Patients who are diagnosed with active RA should be monitored every three months, and treatment should be adjusted if there is no improvement over a six-month period.
The types of medications recommended by your doctor will depend on the severity of your symptoms and how long you’ve had rheumatoid arthritis. But typically, the first line of treatment for active RA is methotrexate, which originated decades ago as a cancer chemotherapy drug that suppresses the immune system.
It’s astounding that the mainstream has nothing more to offer RA sufferers other than this decades-old chemo drug. A drug with side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, hair loss, kidney failure, memory loss, nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting.
Methotrexate is also highly toxic to the liver. So, if you take it, you should make sure to avoid pain drugs like acetaminophen, which also harms the liver. (You should never take acetaminophen, anyway.) And your doctor should also carefully monitor your liver function tests.
Another drug to steer clear of is the newer high-tech class of “biologic” RA treatments called “anti-tumor necrosis factors.” These turned out to be a big bust and are no longer recommended.
In my view, if you’ve been diagnosed with RA, you should really try to find a health practitioner who’s knowledgeable about natural treatment of the disease. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians is a good place to start. You can search their database of physicians here.
In addition, I always recommend beginning treatment of OA and RA with my ABCs of joint health — the ancient extracts of ashwagandha, boswellia, and curcumin.
You should also think about making some lifestyle modifications — such as practicing yoga, meditation, and other mind-body approaches. These approaches can help tremendously in managing pain and swelling on a daily basis.
You can learn more about all the natural approaches shown to combat the pain and swelling from both OA and RA in my Arthritis Relief and Reversal Protocol. Click here to learn more about this online learning tool or to enroll today.
“Fast Five Quiz: Do You Know Enough About Rheumatoid Arthritis?” Medscape (medscape.com) 11/5/2018
“Ra Facts: What are the Latest Statistics on Rheumatoid Arthritis?” Rheumatoid Arthritis (rheumatoidarthritis.org) 10/28/2018