JRA.... Journal of a Radical Arthritis Chick

Here I give advice, speak of my experiences and give information to those who want to better understand Rheumatoid Arthritis. I am NOT a medical professional, and you should always seek advice from a doctor.

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Location: MA, United States

Hello everyone! I am 28 years old and was diagnosed with JRA (Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis) when I was just 3 years old. I've had my battles with this disease over the years, and have decided to create a blog. I want to share my stories and adivce with other RA chicks, or anyone interested, to raise awareness and get insight from others. Feel free to comment/question me about anything. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Does Weather Really Affect our RA?

Well here is Mass, we just had a blizzard that lasted two days, there's a lot of snow out there!  I've been wondering how many of you are affected by the cold.  I know a lot of times I feel a lot more achy and stiff when it's cold out, especially when it's snowing or raining.  Does weather really affect our RA?  I've decided to do some research into this to see if and how this is true. 

John Hopkins Medicine did a research study on patients with osetoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia to test this very question.  They had 151 people with one of these diseases, and 32 without, keep a journal for a year recording how they felt each day, and weather conditions such as temperature, barometric pressure, and relative humidity.  Patients in all three groups experienced more pain on days when the temperature was low, while people in the control group were unaffected by any of the weather conditions.   In addition, patients with rheumatoid arthritis were affected by high humidity and high pressure; osteoarthritis patients by high humidity; and those with fibromyalgia by high pressure. However, the associations were not strong enough to allow pain to predict weather, or vice versa.

The other study looked at 154 people (average age 72) who lived in Florida and had osteoarthritis of the neck, hand, shoulder, knee, or foot. Participants reported their arthritis pain scores for up to two years, then researchers matched the scores with the daily temperature, barometric pressure, and precipitation status. No significant associations were found between any of the weather conditions and osteoarthritis pain at any site, except for a slight association between rising barometric pressure and hand pain in women.

Although some evidence exists that people living in warmer, drier climates experience fewer episodes of arthritis pain, climate does not affect the course of the disease. At most, it may affect symptoms of arthritis pain.

One theory holds that a drop in air pressure (which often accompanies cold, rainy weather) allows tissues in the body to expand to fill the space, meaning that already inflamed tissue can swell even more and cause increased arthritis pain. Other possibilities: Pain thresholds drop in colder weather; cold, rainy days affect mood; and during colder weather people are less likely to be outside and get the exercise that normally helps keep arthritis pain in check.

So does this possible link between cold, rainy weather and arthritis pain mean that people with arthritis should move to a dry, warm climate like Arizona? Not necessarily, especially if it means leaving your family, friends, doctors, and support system behind. If you are thinking of moving, first spend a considerable amount of time in your new location to see if the weather affects your arthritis pain symptoms.
But bear in mind that no environment is arthritis-proof: Even though the people in these research studies live in warm climates, they still struggle with arthritis pain. Similarly, it’s possible to get relief from arthritis pain in any climate. For example, even if cold weather means you can’t spend time outdoors, you can still get valuable exercise in a gym or heated pool.

Source:  John Hopkins Medicine

Monday, December 27, 2010

Juvenile Rhuematoid Arthritis: What is it, and how is it different from RA?

I've had JRA since I was 3 years old... pictured left is me not long after I was diagnosed.  If you look, you can see my left knee is much larger than the right.  There are many people out there who do not realize that arthritis can affect kids also. There is also a bit of a difference between RA and JRA, not major, but there still is one.  In this blog I am going to discuss what JRA is, the differences between RA and JRA, and a little bit about my journey as a kid. 

First, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) is arthritis that causes joint inflammation and stiffness for more than 6 weeks in a child of 16 years of age or less. Inflammation causes redness, swelling, warmth, and soreness in the joints, although many children with JRA do not complain of joint pain. Any joint can be affected, and inflammation may limit the mobility of affected joints.

Doctors classify JRA into three categories, Pauarticular, Polyarticular, and Systematic. 
Pauarticular is when four or fewer joints are affected, and is the most common type of JRA in children, it affects about half of all JRA kids.   Paucarticular disease typically affects large joints, such as the knees. Girls under age 8 are most likely to develop this type of JRA.  Many children with Pauarticular outgrow this by adulthood. 
Polyarticular (which is what I was diagnosed with) affects 30% of all children with JRA. In polyarticular disease, five or more joints are affected. The small joints, such as those in the hands and feet, are most commonly involved, but the disease may also affect large joints. Polyarticular JRA often is symmetrical; that is, it affects the same joint on both sides of the body.
Some children with polyarticular disease have a special kind of antibody in their blood called IgM rheumatoid factor (RF). These children often have a more severe form of the disease, which doctors consider to be the same as adult rheumatoid arthritis.
Systematic is when there is joint swelling, along with a fever and a light pink rash, and may also affect internal organs such as the heart, liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. Doctors sometimes call it Still's disease.  The systemic form affects 20% of all children with JRA. A small percentage of these children develop arthritis in many joints and can have severe arthritis that continues into adulthood.

Some children have special proteins in the blood called antinuclear antibodies (ANAs). Eye disease affects about 20 to 30% of children with pauciarticular JRA. Up to 80% of those with eye disease also test positive for ANA, and the disease tends to develop at a particularly early age in these children. Regular examinations by an ophthalmologist (a doctor who specializes in eye diseases) are necessary to prevent serious eye problems such as iritis (inflammation of the iris) or uveitis (inflammation of the inner eye, or uvea).  I was diagnosed with uveitis the same day I was diagnosed with my JRA.  As you can see in the picture to the right, my left eye almost closed. 

 I was actually misdiagnosed at first, and put in a cast for months (see photo above).  When it came time to come out of the cast, I cried for three days straight because my knee was locked in place and I could not walk.  It was a long journey of lots of physical therapy, and using a walker, but I was able to pull through.   The JRA started in my left knee, but by the time I was 8, it has spread to every joint in my body.  My rheumatologist said that there was a slight possibility I could outgrow the disease by the time I was 18.  Unfortunately I didn't, and still have it to this day. 

What is the difference between JRA and RA?
The main difference between juvenile and adult rheumatoid arthritis is that many people with JRA outgrow the illness, while adults usually have lifelong symptoms. Studies estimate that by adulthood, JRA symptoms disappear in more than half of all affected children. Additionally, unlike rheumatoid arthritis in an adult, JRA may affect bone development as well as the child's growth.  For example, I'm only 5 feet tall and a lot of my bones are very small and not adult size.  My jaw is very small, I have to use a child's toothbrush and have had teeth removed because there was no room.  My face itself is very small, I have to wear children's glasses and hats.  This is all because my bone growth was stunted because of my JRA. 

Another difference between JRA and RA is the percentage of people who are positive for RF (the rheumatoid factor in our genetic make-up). About 70 to 80 percent of all adults with rheumatoid arthritis are positive for RF, but fewer than half of all children with rheumatoid arthritis are RF positive. Presence of RF indicates an increased chance that JRA will continue into adulthood.

RA and JRA are treated similarly, and both have no known cause or cure.  My hope is to find a cure for this disease so children and adults aren't affected like this.  In the meantime, research doctors are continuing to try to improve existing treatments and find new medicines that will work better with fewer side effects.  Let's hope this will happen, and starting spreading awareness for this. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fibromyalgia: What is it?

First, I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!  I took a break from my blog last week, but am now continuing on with it.  I've received many compliments and thank yous for my blog! How blessed am I to hear all this good feedback.  If I can help spread RA awareness to friends and family, then wonderful!  So many people are left in the dark about their (or their family members) illnesses, some explanation is great to have.  This blog is going to be about Fibromyalgia.  People who suffer from RA, are at a higher risk of developing Fibromyalgia.  I've recently seen many chicks get diagnosed with this disease, so I figured it was time for a blog on it!

I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia when I was 12 years old, about 9 years after being diagnosed with my JRA.  I was experiencing this pain in my back, that didn't feel like my JRA symptoms at all.  Finally after bringing it up to my doctor, he diagnosed me with Fibro.  I had never heard of this before! What is this? I'm diagnosed with something new again?! How is this different from RA?

Fibromyalgia is a common condition characterized by long-term, body-wide pain and tender points in joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. Fibromyalgia has also been linked to fatigue, morning stiffness, sleep problems, headaches, numbness in hands and feet, depression, and anxiety. Fibromyalgia can develop on its own or along with other musculoskeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.  The cause of this disorder is unknown. Physical or emotional trauma may play a role in development of the syndrome. Some evidence suggests that fibromyalgia patients have abnormal pain transmission responses.  It has been suggested that sleep disturbances, which are common in fibromyalgia patients, may actually cause the condition. Another theory suggests that the disorder may be associated with changes in skeletal muscle metabolism, possibly caused by decreased blood flow, which could cause chronic fatigue and weakness. 

How is Fibro detected and diagnosed?
Diagnosis of fibromyalgia requires a history of a least 3 months of widespread pain, and pain and tenderness in at least 11 of 18 tender-point sites. These tender-point sites include fibrous tissue or muscles of the arms, buttocks, chest, knees, lower back, neck, rib cage, shoulders, thighs.  Sometimes, laboratory and x-ray tests are done to help confirm the diagnosis by ruling out other conditions that may have similar symptoms. 

The next question that comes to mind, is how to tell the difference between RA pain and Fibro pain? How are they treated together?

There are several ways to distinguish to difference between RA pain and Fibro pain. First, RA does not typically involve the DIP joint (i.e. distal interphalangeal joint or end joints closest to the nails) so if there is tenderness there, this would favor fibromyalgia or possibly osteoarthritis. Secondly, fibromyalgia is not associated with joint swelling as occurs in rheumatoid arthritis, although patients often complain that their joints feel swollen. The complaint of widespread body pain associated with the typical fibromyalgia tender points would also be consistent with fibromyalgia and not RA. 

For treating patients with both RA and Fibro, the RA is usually treated first, since it is associated with joint deformity and disability.  Treatment for the Fibro is mostly concentrated on the sleep aspect of it, since most patients complain about the pain being so unbearable, it interferes with their sleep.  It is usually treated with antidepressants or sleeping medications like Lyrica, Cymbalta, Savella or Neurotin.  In mild cases, the symptoms may go away when stress is decreased, or lifestyle changes are implemented. Eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding caffeine may help with problems sleeping, and may help reduce the severity of the symptoms. Lifestyle measures to improve the quality of sleep can be effective for fibromyalgia.

Improved fitness through exercise is recommended. Studies have shown that fibromyalgia symptoms can be relieved by aerobic exercise. The best way to begin a fitness program is to start with short sessions of just a few minutes of gentle, low-impact exercises such as walking and swimming. The length of each session can be increased slowly, as tolerated. Attempts at keeping to an exercise program often fail because they are begun too aggressively, with sessions that are too long or too intense. Starting out slowly and gently can help ease you into an effective program you can stick with.  Starting slowly helps stretch and mobilize tight, sore muscles. High-impact aerobics and weight lifting could cause increased discomfort. Symptoms may be relieved by gentle stretching and light massage, as well as acupressure, acupuncture, and relaxation techniques.

There is no proven prevention for this disorder, but treatment for Fibromyalgia has come a long way over the years, so the future for this disease looks very good. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Keeping this post short and sweet!  I just wanted to wish each and every one of you a very, Merry Christmas!! I hope you all have a pain-free, fun day filled with family, love and laughter.  I hope Santa brings you want you asked for.  ((((Hugs to everyone))))

Here is a photo of my tree I'd like to share:

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!!!

PS:  After Christmas I will be back with some new blogs!!! If you'd like to see me discuss anything, please feel free to let me know. :)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Stones in Harmony -- Beautiful Jewelry by a Beautiful Woman

Elizabeth Wald is a beautiful courageous woman who suffers from RA, but she doesn't let that stop her!  She has created her own business making beautiful, custom jewelry for RA sufferers, or anyone who enjoys great, well-crafted bracelets, earrings or necklaces. A generous portion of her proceeds go directly to RA Chicks, the Arthritis Foundation and the Arthritis National Research Foundation. Her business is Stones In Harmony, please be sure to visit her website, or you can find her on Facebook.   She made me this beautiful bracelet, that I wear everyday.

I was able to have a wonderful chat with Lizzy - as she likes to be called by her friends - "but never LIZ" she adds, over the phone to discuss RA, her jewelry business and what it all means to her.  I am very grateful for her for giving me this wonderful opportunity, and help spread the word of RA awareness more! I hope you all enjoy this as much as I did. 

Here is the exclusive interview with Elizabeth:

Lizzy, When did you start Stones in Harmony, and what made you want to do this? 
I launched the actual business in 2008.  I was doing fitness training at the time. One year prior, when on vacation in Maine. I walked into a store with Native American jewelry, I found it to be very beautiful and soothing.  But the man working there picked up something was wrong.  I started crying and crying and realized I just couldn't take the physical pain anymore.  I got really inspired by the stones from the ocean.  I was in denial, I felt I needed this work to make me feel productive in society. And I knew what I had to do.  I knew this wasn't right. I was fighting something, the urge to become creative again.  The whole experience was fantastic.  I realized when I got back from Maine I had all these stones from the beach. I saw the beauty in them. 

You suffer from RA, how long ago were you diagnosed, and how does that affect your business?
I think I've had it all my life, looking back.  Pain started to be something that was a part of me.  Then it got so severe I knew I had to get help and see a doctor.  I was misdiagnosed 17 times.  I went to all these hand doctors because it started in my hands.  My hands were full of fluid and the doctor saw that it was not normal, and sent me to see a Rheumatologist. All the blood tests came back positive.  I was started on Enbrel and 4 days later felt better!

What do you mean, "you felt better"?
Basically I could turn the key in the door again, I could do military push ups on my hands instead of knuckles, and I didn't feel this intense pain all over my body.

How did you incorporate your RA to your jewelry?

I was at home, I was in a a lot of pain, I lost a lot of friendships because I wasn't well enough to go out anymore.  I adapted pretty well to being home bound.  I couldn't get enough of the stones and the colors. I felt like a kid in a candy store!  I'm sitting here at home, and nobody knows why, they think I'm mental or it's all in my head. I wasn't going to let this disease be in my head. I wanted to spill it out in any way that I could to the community.  If I'm at home, I thought at least I could put words and letters into my jewelry designs to raise awareness out there.  

How do you use your tools, while making the jewelry? 
I have taught the tools to do the work for me.  If I don't use my hands everyday they will freeze up.  Keep moving, don't freeze physically or emotionally. Keep moving. You can modify exercises to your fitness routine, and your lifestyle. The worst thing to do is sit on the couch and watch television all day.  Just get out and move and oxygenate. Go take a walk around the block and come back...that's it, all you have to do for the first day.  Then try a little more tomorrow.

You've been doing this for sometime, I saw your article in Health Monitor Magazine, how did you get involved with that? (you can read the article here)

The magazine called me from a story I must have submitted to them, but in my Fibro Fog, could not remember which one!  I would say that my most exciting opportunity this year, was getting my word out there to the world.  The reason why, is because I'm getting phone calls from women who are so alone and are in despair.  I then refer them to the FaceBook page RA Chicks, and it makes them so happy!  When I get a phone call or email, I always ask if they have support, and unanimously the answer is no. I refer them to RA Chicks and they have formed friendships that way.  It's important for women to know about this great site.  

Yes, I agree RA Chicks has been such a great a sense of relief, comfort, and has helped me form wonderful friendships!  Why did you get involved with RA Chicks?

This site, I want people to go here because once you're here, you'll never be alone again.  At all hours of the day and night, you'll have someone to talk to. Why did I get involved in this awareness jewelry?... because the woman that read about me get inspired to not let RA stop them in their tracks.  That's really what this is all about... raising awareness is key, but raising awareness that you're not alone is golden.  In this forum you can laugh until you cry, or cry until you laugh.  This is just so amazing to me to go on and see friends that I referred, comment and post.  Just to know that they don't have to go through what we went through for years of being alone is like striking gold, or hitting oil, whatever you want to call it. 

Where did the name Stones in Harmony, come from?

All of the gemstones I use for RA awareness have been documented over thousands of years to work as anti-rheumatic healing stones.  Aside from the colors purple and blue, the colors of RA and other RA diseases, these gemstones also have the  ability to boost the immune system and cleanse the organs of the body. Amazonite for example, is a calming and soothing gemstone to promote relaxation. Turquoise is known to be one of the strongest healing stones throughout history, boosting the immune system and ailing the pains of rheumatic disease.  It's not just the words, but the colors and the stones for what they are designated that helped me formulate this concept.  That's what the stones in harmony are... gemstones which in one way or another, have been used for thousands and thousands of years to bring the body back to harmony.  

What is something you'd like to see for the future of Stones in Harmony?

My dream is to be able to spread a global level of awareness.  I also want people to use the key words in the jewelry like RA and  Fibro.  I want the community to raise global awareness. World Arthritis Day, for example, needs to be promoted more.  All countries need to be involved in this awareness campaign. What I want to see, is for people to get inspired.  I want to inspire people, who now have a life change because they lost their job.  I would like my company to take part in all of the good things that can happen with people with RA, and let them know that it is not the end of your life.  It can actually be a brand new opportunity for your life.  Like with your writing, Mallory,... for them to draw on their internal talents and they utilize them with passion and love.  Give themselves something to wake up to.  I want to inspire people to write, to paint, to play the piano,  to do all of those things. Even if they are in pain... I want people to take a walk, to keep moving.  I want people to think, "yea okay this sucks, but this is an opportunity I didn't know I had". I want everyone to feel like that.

Lizzy, you are an inspiration.  Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to chat with me.  I agree we all need to keep moving, and to find our hidden talents and go forth with them.  I've taken my writing to a whole new level, and also have started my own photography business.  I have been out of work for a year, and was feeling lonely and depressed, that I was wasting my life away.  I've been given this opportunity to go forth with my talents and make something out of my life.  It brings me joy and happiness, and I only hope that others are inspired to do the same.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oh head, why do you cause me so much pain?

I dedicate this blog to anyone who has suffered from severe headaches/migraines.  I personally don't suffer from headaches, just every once in a great while, I'll get a bad migraine.  I know a few people who have such bad headaches, even the medicines don't seem to work well.  I have done some research into different tactics to help headaches.  I hope this helps some find relief. 

Note: I am not a doctor, this blog is a general guide and is not intended to replace professional medical advice.

1. Painkillers:  You may want to think twice before taking painkillers like aspirin, or Tylenol.  After looking into research into why, I found two main reasons why.  (Both of these statements were not written by me, I found them on them an informational website)
     A. Rebound headaches can occur in people who take these medications or others more than 10 times per week,and especially if the person takes the maximum recommended dose (or more) each time they take the drug.  It is very harmful to overdose. If your problems get worse contact a doctor immediately. As the body develops a tolerance to the medication, headaches begin to worsen and become more frequent, resulting in a cycle of increasing dosages and more frequent medication use.
    B. All drugs, including these commonly used OTC medications, have potential side effects, and frequently taking these drugs increases the risk of life-threatening side effects. Some of these side effects, such as Reyes Syndrome, a potentially fatal disorder which occurs in children who have taken aspirin, can occur after just one dose. That is why in most countries aspirin is contra-indicated in children under 16 years old. Paracetamol is generally a safe drug and usually will cause liver damage only if you exceed the maximum stated dose which is 4g/daily in 4 divided doses. Liver damage from acetaminophen may develop over long periods of time.

2. Relax.  Even if the headache isn't brought on by stress, relaxing can help.  Meditation like Yoga, can really help speed up your road to recovery.

3. Take a nap.  Sleep almost always helps alleviate a headache, even if it's just a quick cat-nap.  During rest, your body relaxes and recuperates.  Sleep is one of the best medicines for you.

4. Drink some water.  Dehydration is a common cause for headaches.  Even if you don't feel thirsty, you could still be dehydrated.  Make sure you're drinking your daily dose of 8 glasses of 8oz of water.  It makes a big difference.

5. Drink a cup of coffee or herbal tea.  Caffeine constricts the blood vessels, which can lessen the head pain.  Be careful though, because too much caffeine may lead to a migraine.  That's why it's usually a better idea to go for an herbal tea, like a green tea.  If taken in conjunction with a painkiller, caffeine can also speed up the medicine's effect, and as a result some painkillers include caffeine. Alternately, you can drink cola.
If you're a heavy caffeine or soda drinker, you may experience headaches as part of caffeine withdrawal. A jolt of caffeine will usually help, but in the long run, it's best to break your addiction. 

6. Massage.  Having you, or someone else, massage your temples, neck and shoulders, can help eliminate tension in the head.  If you can afford it, having a professional massage done would help.

7. Reflexology. Reflexology is used as a treatment for all sorts of ailments, and clinical studies seem to confirm its effectiveness for some, including headaches. Use the thumb and index finger of one hand to apply pressure to the fleshy area between the thumb and index finger of the other hand. Hold this for a minute or two. This doesn't seem to work for everyone, but for some people, this provides immediate relief. The relief may be temporary, or you may get rid of your headache entirely.

8. Aromatherapy.  It can be very relaxing and has been used for centuries for helping with stress and headaches.  Using in conjunction with meditation and yoga, can also be very rewarding.

9. Ice or Heat.  Depending on the person, it has been sworn by some that either of these can work.  Some claim an ice pack on the back of the neck, a heat pack applied to the head or a hot shower, can help ease the tension in the head.

10. Contact your doctor.  If none of these methods work, and the headaches have gone on for weeks, it is time to see the doctor.  Some people suffer from chronic headaches, and some more heavy duty medicines may be in order.

Below is a list of herbs and foods that have been shown to help eliminate headaches.
-Try mixing some Pepperoncinni Juice with some Tabasco sauce. (WARNING: Pepperoncinni is a very spicy food, so if you don't like spicy stuff, I'd stay away)
-Peppermint: For hundreds of years peppermint has been used as a headache remedy. From tea to extract, there are lots of ways to enjoy peppermint. Be warned that peppermint is not the thing to take if you have heartburn or similar stomach acid problems.
-Passionflower is a calming herb. Taken as a tea before bed, it can help you sleep. At least one clinic trial has found it to lower anxiety. It is also believed to have anti-inflammatory and pain killing properties. Great for migraine!
-Ginko: The leaf of the ginko tree is an extremely popular herb for headache, but the medical evidence is still hotly disputed. Ginko is said to improve the flow of blood and get more oxygen to the brain, hence not only relieving headache but improving memory and alertness as well. There are some nice teas sold with ginko and peppermint, so why not give it a try? Note that Ginko is one of those herbs that can cause side effects when taken with headache medications, including aspirin and lithium.
-Pepper: Yes, that's right – the pepper. Many peppers have an ingredient called capsaicin, which among other things seems to raise the pain threshold. It's gained attention in the medical world in recent years especially for its treatment of cluster headaches, and it's often given in the form of a nasal spray.
-White willow bark is an especially popular herb for headache because it works much like an aspirin, relieving your headache pain and causing the inflammation to go down. Like any painkiller, it should not be taken long term. Once again, be very careful about taking willow with other painkillers and medications - check with your doctor!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

RA Leaving you in a fog?

Today's blog is going to be a bit different, usually I try and give advice, but today I just need to vent.  I'll also make it informational.

Ugh!  That is how I feel most days about this disease.  It seems that most of the time I have absolutely no energy.  I feel so run down, tired, can't think straight....literally in a fog.   That's a great word to use for how I feel, and I know others experience the fog also.  Is the fog from the Ra? Or from the gross meds we take?  Probably a combination of the two.  I take my MTX on Sunday nights...usually it makes me feel really tired, and I'm able to sleep well.  I usually sleep about 13 hours straight, and still wake up kind of groggy.  I slept like absolute crap on Sunday, and woke up Monday feeling very nauseous.  The nausea lasted all day, and yesterday I felt like I was in a fog all day! I was so groggy and could not think straight! It's very aggravating.  I really wish I could have energy to just live a normal day.  I went out with a friend today for maybe an hour, and came home and felt wiped!  This disease is more frustrating than anything else.  I try so hard to explain this feeling to friends and family, but find it very hard to do.  Some try to understand, most have no clue.  Honestly, I don't think anyone knows how it feels unless you're going through it first-hand. 

It makes me wonder how many others feel this way?  Does anyone else wish they could punch Mr. Arthur right in his face?  It also got me curious as to where this fog really comes from, some answers may help me deal with this a bit better.  Having this disease for 22 years, I never questioned why I always feel tired.... it seems to be getting worse as I get older.  I figured it was just that, I'm getting older.  Yet.... I'm 25.  That's not old.  Although, most days I feel as if I'm 25 trapped in an 85 year old body, heh. 

After doing some digging around, I found out that RA can cause brain fog via the release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines.  Cytokines create fatigue and interfere with sleep patterns. They are one thing responsible for what has been termed "brain fog".  Autoimmune conditions are named or categorized according to where in the body cytokines are being overproduced and how the disease manifests itself. For example, an overproduction of these cytokines in the joints causing pain and swelling is RA. 

Fatigue is also sometimes the first sign of inflammation. Fatigue can make it harder to concentrate or deal with pain – it can even make people feel helpless. Like pain, fatigue is a signal that something is wrong. Coping with fatigue can help you feel better.

Start a fatigue diary, keeping a diary can help you discover the causes of your fatigue. Write down the times of the day or week when you feel fatigue and what seems to trigger it. Sometimes you may see an obvious solution to the problem. For instance, you may blame over activity when you feel tired, but by reviewing your diary you may see that your fatigue is a sign of increased disease activity. 

There could be something else going on, and if it is really interfering in your life, it's time to see a doctor.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pets -- bring Comfort & Joy

How many of you have pets and they comfort you in your time of pain?  I know my girls help me out! Harley is the big black one, and Mrs.Nesbitt is the small one.  They both bring a smile to my face, and I swear they know when I'm in pain.  They'll follow me around the house when I'm home alone, cuddle with me when I'm in pain and are just always there for me when I need something to make me feel better.  I used to think it was all in my head, and I just loved my pets too much, but research has shown that pets are indeed great for our health.

Pets can Improve Your mood!
Anyone who loves animals, can not stay in a bad mood when a dog looks at you with those big puppy eyes, or a cat comes and rubs against you, purring.   A study was done at UCLA with AIDS patients and how pets benefit their health.  The study was done with 1800  men who suffer from AIDS and depression.  It was found that having pet, reduced the likely hood of suffering from depression by 50%!  You can read the entire article about the research, here

Pets control blood pressure better than meds?
Yes, it's true!  While ACE inhibiting drugs can generally reduce blood pressure, they aren’t as effective on controlling spikes in blood pressure due to stress and tension.  A study was done on New York stockbrokers, 24 male and 24 female who had pretreatment blood pressure readings higher than 140/90 hg/ml.  All were nonsmokers with no other health conditions, all living with out pets for at least 5 years previous.  Six months later all the pet-owners blood pressure showed a significant difference.  You can read the entire case study here.

Pets Encourage You To Get Out And Exercise
Whether the dog needs to go out and walk, or we walk them just because, its definitely known that people who own dogs, especially in an urban setting, are more likely to get out and walk than those who are non pet owners.   Exercise is a great stress-reliever and great for overall health, because of this, having a dog is very beneficial in this department.  It may sound odd to some, but you can also take you cat out for walks.  Cats need exercise too and pet stores make leashes and harnesses specially made for cats!  So get out and walk!

Pets Can Help with Social Support
When you're out walking with a pet, it makes it easier for others to approach you, especially if they are walking a pet also.  This can lead to a new friendship, which also has great health and stress management!

Pets Stave Off Loneliness and Provide Unconditional Love
Your pet can be there for you, when people can't.  They offer love and companionship, enjoy comfortable silences, are excellent secret keepers and excellent snugglers!  They are the best antidote to loneliness! In fact, a Saint Louis University study was done with nursing home residents.  Results showed that when visited by animals, the residents were much happier and less lonely than when they had people visitors! It's a great article and you can read the entire study here.   All these benefits can reduce the amount of stress people experience in response to feelings of social isolation and lack of social support from people.

Pets Can Reduce Stress—Sometimes More Than People
Talking out your problems with friends is a great stress reliever, but recent research has showed that spending time with your pet is even better!  An article was published on this very topic.  The study was done with 240 heterosexual married couples.  Half the couples had a single pet, the other half had not had any pets in at least 5 years.  The articles results stated "the findings demonstrate that pets can buffer reactivity to acute stress as well as diminish perceptions of stress."  You can read the entire article here.  This is probably because our pets never judge us, they just love us! <3

It's important to know that having a pet comes with responsibilities, and owning one isn't for everyone.  However, for most people, having a furry, or even non furry, companion has it's healthy benefits.  If you're thinking about owning a pet, do your research on what it takes to care for and maintain it's health, find one that fits in your lifestyle.  There are plenty of loving animals out there for you to choose from, and one waiting for you to take it home and love it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Soothing Comforts for Painful Joints

Let's face it pain and RA, go hand in hand.  The best thing we look to find is some comfort for our painful and achy joints.  Yes we have medications, but what about the days we wake up to a bad flare?  Sometimes at-home therapy can help make a painful day, into something a little more tolerable.  After doing some research, and some therapies my self, here are some tips to maybe help us with those "yucky" days.  *Note: These tips are NOT for replacing any medications, or a cure by any means, but to possibly help with some relief.

1.  A nice hot bath!!! This is a personal favorite of mine.  Not only is a hot bath soothing on our joints, but the relaxation can help strip away some of that stress you've been experiencing.  Take a bubble bath, light some candles and put on some soothing music.  Your joints will love the warmth, and your body will love the stress going away!  They also make spa attachments for your tub, you can attach an item to the side of the tub and turn your bath into a hot tub! The jets actions on the joints help.  Unfortunately, these can be pricey, the cheapest one I found is $55 on Amazon.  If you can afford it, I'd look into it.  Check it out here: Amazon.com

2.  Hot/Cold Compresses.  Depending on how you feel, or who you are, compresses can help.  Hot or cold, doesn't matter, it really depends on the person.  Personally I love heat, but I know of others who swear by cold.  Icy Hot makes great items such as compresses, gels, etc.  You can buy most of their items at stores like Walmart, or Target, but here is their website to check out their items. Icy Hot

3. Biofreeze.  This is something I have yet to try personally, but everyone who has tried it, swears by it!  Especially creator Niki, from RA Chicks, she is one who always uses it and raves how well it is.  It's available online in different sizes.  The best place you can find it is Amazon.com 

4. Acupuncture -- is the procedure of inserting and manipulating needles into various points on the body to relieve pain or for therapeutic purposes. (Wikipedia)  I've personally tried this before, and found it to be a great relief.  It helps with pain for a little while, and also helps with calming down the stress in our bodies. 

There are many herbs and foods that claim to help with inflammation, personally I've tried some, and don't find any relief at all.  These four will help a bit on the days we need just that extra something.  Sometimes for me, even just keeping my joints moving, even if going for a walk, helps so I don't get stiff.  This too can be difficult if our joints in the knees/hips/ankles are so bad, we can't walk.  I hope some of you find some relief or are on medications that help you feel great and lead as normal lives as possible. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Finding love with RA

Hello everyone, sorry I did not write a blog here today, my fiance and I are celebrating our anniversary.   We've officially been together for 4 years!  I'm definitely a lucky girl for finding someone who truly cares for me, even through all the crap I have to put up with everyday.  I'll make this a short blog, more of an inspirational message to all those who haven't found the one, yet.

I always had a tough time dating growing up, it seemed as soon as a guy found out I had all these illnesses, it scared them away.  I always joke that I'm high maintenance, and in reality I am, but not in the material sense.  All the money we have to pay for medicines, doctors appointments and hospitalizations, adds up and can add extra stress onto a relationship.  Most couples who fight a lot and don't work out, usually is because of money problems.  Now add an illness and more expenses on top of that, who would want to take care of someone like that?  Someone who is loving and caring, that's who.  I only hope everyone can find someone who cares for you, who understands when you can't do certain things, who's compassionate and loving.  This doesn't go just for a husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/wife... it goes for friends too.  It's hard to find a friend who actually cares and believes what you're going through.  

I've learned to get rid of the negativity in my life, like those who don't give a crap about me, or can not seem to understand what I'm going through.  This may seem harsh, but it's not healthy for us to have added stress on our lives.  It's better for us in the long run, and really not worth it.

Every one of you are beautiful, strong, amazing people.  Only make sure you have people in your life who are worth your time, if they don't make you happy, they're not worth it. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Shopping!

Ah... it's that time of year again, dreaded Christmas Shopping.  I don't know about anyone else, but grocery shopping alone is exhausting, draining and stressful, never mind holiday shopping!  I try and get most of my shopping done in one trip, I hate crowds, especially crowded malls.  Except every year that I do that, I come home feeling completely exhausted!   It seems every year there's someone else to buy for, and one more place to go shopping. 

I started off my shopping alone, so I could buy my fiance, Adam, his gifts, he's a peeker so I have to go while he's at work, then wrap them right away, lol! I then went out with him later and we finished the shopping together.  It's definitely a help to have a carriage to lean on and a loved one to help.  I'm home now and feel so drained! I wish shopping was fun, I don't know how some people love shopping and go all the time.  For those who feel like me online shopping at places like Amazon.com are a great place to find a lot of great gifts.  Also, most stores now you can buy online and pick up your items in the store so you don't have to worry about shipping charges, standing in lines/crowds or packages being left at the house. 

Here are some shopping tips to help us through the holidays so we don't end up looking like this lady over here.  Which is how I feel right now and need to learn to follow my own advice!

--- Go with a group of friends or family members.  Having company come along to go shopping always helps to keep our minds off the pain.  However, don't forget to take frequent breaks, in the long run it will help.  Most malls have benches throughout and a food court.  If you have some friends who want to go into a store that you don't need anything in, don't go in, sit at the closest bench and take a breather.  Pushing yourself is going to be harmful to you.

--- Make a list of who you're buying for, what you're getting them, and where you can buy them.  If there is something on your list that, let's say your husband/friend/mother, pass the store on their way home from work, ask them to pick it up for you.  It will save you a trip to the store, and you won't have to worry about going out, especially if you're in pain.

---Another good idea is to start early!! Take it one day at a time and make the moves as you feel comfortable with your joint pains. After all, you don't have to sit at home all the time and despair about your rheumatoid arthritis condition all the time. So some back-to-back shopping will serve as an ideal getaway!

Happy shopping everyone!!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Beau-TEA-ful Healthy!

Did you know tea has amazing healthy benefits?  Not only is it very delicious, but the herbs in tea have been proven to be very beneficial to us.  Numerous studies have demonstrated the anti-cancer properties of antioxidant polyphenols. Some studies have suggested that tea's polyphenols may reduce the risk of gastric, esophageal and skin cancers, if one consumes 4 to 6 cups daily. Another study showed that just 2 cups of tea may lower the risk of ovarian cancer by 46 percent in women. Other studies have found that polyphenols help prevent blood clotting and lower cholesterol levels. One Japanese study found that green tea lowers death rates from heart disease.

The healthiest way to drink tea is all-natural tea bags, with no sugar or milk.  Instant tea (bottled) may contain very little amounts of actual tea and plenty of sugars or artificial sweeteners. For health’s sake, check out the ingredients on the label.

While, we could never go off our medicines and just rely on herbs and supplements, adding healthier things to our diet could help a bit.  There are many different types of teas, so I've come up with a list of different teas, and how they are beneficial to you!

Green & Black Teas:

  • Green tea: (My personal favorite) Made with steamed tea leaves, it has a high concentration of EGCG and has been widely studied. Green tea’s antioxidants may interfere with the growth of bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers; prevent clogging of the arteries, burn fat, counteract oxidative stress on the brain, reduce risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, reduce risk of stroke, and improve cholesterol levels.

  • Black tea: Made with fermented tea leaves, black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavored teas like chai, along with some instant teas. Studies have shown that black tea may protect lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. It also may reduce the risk of stroke.

  • White tea: Uncured and unfermented. One study showed that white tea has the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas

  • Oolong tea: In an animal study, those given antioxidants from oolong tea were found to have lower bad cholesterol levels. One variety of oolong, Wuyi, is heavily marketed as a weight loss supplement, but science hasn’t backed the claims.

  • Pu-erh tea: Made from fermented and aged leaves. Considered a black tea, its leaves are pressed into cakes. One animal study showed that animals given pu-erh had less weight gain and reduced LDL cholesterol.

  • Herbel Teas:

    Made from herbs, fruits, seeds, or roots steeped in hot water, herbal teas have lower concentrations of antioxidants than green, white, black, and oolong teas. Their chemical compositions vary widely depending on the plant used.

    Varieties include ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, hibiscus, jasmine, rosehip, mint, rooibos (red tea), chamomile, and echinacea.

    Limited research has been done on the health benefits of herbal teas, but claims that they help to shed pounds, stave off colds, and bring on restful sleep are largely unsupported.

  • Chamomile tea: Its antioxidants may help prevent complications from diabetes, like loss of vision and nerve and kidney damage, and stunt the growth of cancer cells.

  • Echinacea: Often touted as a way to fight the common cold, the research on echinacea has been inconclusive.

  • Hibiscus: A small study found that drinking three cups of hibiscus tea daily lowered blood pressure in people with modestly elevated levels.

  • Rooibos (red tea): A South African herb that is fermented. Although it has flavonoids with cancer-fighting properties, medical studies have been limited.

  • The FDA cautions against taking supplements that include:
    • Comfrey
    • Ephedra
    • Willow bark
    • Germander
    • Lobelia
    • Chaparral
    These cautions aside, nutritionists say to drink up and enjoy the health benefits of tea.

    --The following information was gathered from websites like WebMD, Arthritis Foundation.

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Holiday Cooking Tips with RA

    Christmas is approaching!  How many of you are the ones cooking Christmas dinner?  It's so tough on us with RA, if our hands are bothering us, it makes cooking that much more difficult.  If our knees, or ankles are bothering us, standing in the kitchen is difficult.  Here are some gadgets and tips that could help us through the holidays. 

    If you're the one hosting the dinner, it might be easier to go with a potluck, that way most of the cooking isn't put on you.  Design a menu, and ask guests to bring 1-2 dishes.  This will help you immensely. 

    Arthritis pain can affect cooking in general, especially our hands. 
    Ergonomic, lightweight cooking tools which have easy grips and non-slip handles are very helpful to people who have arthritis. There are many choices and designs for cooking tools and kitchen aids. Spatulas, spoons, ladles, whisks and other cooking tools which feel comfortable in your hand can greatly improve manual dexterity, reduce pain, and compensate for swollen and deformed joints.

    Pots and pans can be heavy and clumsy, especially with swollen or deformed joints.  Lifting pots can be troublesome, if your in pain it be very unsafe and could lead to dropping the pot. Using pots and pans with two handles, can make things a lot easier.   The two handles distributes the weight more easily for both the hands and wrists. 

    A necessity in the kitchen for RA sufferers, is a food processors, especially for people who have difficulty with manual cooking tasks like chopping, cutting, and slicing. It will automatically chop, shred, or slice after you load it.  Make sure you choose a food processor which is manageable for you by considering physical limitations you have developed from arthritis. Before you buy it, be sure you are able to change the blades easily and remove the plastic bowl and plastic lid from the food processor. Consider mini food processors for your needs as well.

    Another great tool for cutting is the Rocker knife!  It's a great tool for cutting and chopping, it's two handled design adds strength and control. 

    To help ease the pain of standing for so long, kids play mats are a great idea.   I've seen them for sale at Walmart.com, check them out.  They're a soft idea instead of standing on our floors.  They might sell cheaper elsewhere, but it's an idea.

    Next, pull up a stool!  While the mats are a great comfort for standing on, let's face it, standing for long periods of time will have strain on our joints.  Always have a stool nearby, a high one that you can still work on the counter comfortably.  Don't worry about the stool ruining your decor, think of it as part of your life managing your arthritis.  It will definitely help. 

    It is helpful for people with arthritis pain to be able to cook nutritious meals but in less time or more simply. Crockpot recipes are just that - simple, one-pot nutritious meals.  Click Here for some great Holiday Crock Pot recipes. 

    Another handy-tool to have in the kitchen is a Jar Opener.  Pampered Chef makes an excellent one!  I always have trouble opening bottles and jars of different sizes.   

    I hope these tips and tools make your Holiday cooking easier and more convenient!  I love to bake myself, so these tips will help me and make me want to bake more often. Wishing everyone Happy Holidays!!