Monday, June 8, 2009

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Kill You?

This post is a reaction to the many times I have heard “At least it’s nothing serious.” Well, some things about Rheumatoid Arthritis are downright serious. So, I want to place a warning to my readers that today I am utterly serious. For once, I have found something that is not a joking matter at all.

A few months ago, I read an old interview with Debra Norville about her mother who had RA. The author said that she had “died of Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Norville’s mom is not the first, of course. My own grandfather’s life was cut short and RA apparently was part of that.

Let’s look at a few facts:

(You do not need to read the all links to understand my point, but even though it was tedious, I wanted to provide them for anyone who may need to begin a particular search. And they prove my point, too.)

- Rheumatoid Arthritis can attack the spine. When the C-1 vertebra is affected, pressure on the spinal cord can lead to paralysis or death. Clinical neurology book

- Inside of the larynx are the Cricoarytenoid joints (the vocal cord joints) which bring the characteristic hoarseness of RA. Both the swelling and the nodules can interfere with ability to breathe. Sometimes, a tracheotomy is required. Here is a discussion of this. Health central discussion

- Rheumatoid Arthritis of the pericardium (heart lining) interferes with heart function. There are also nodules and inflammation of the muscle itself. Web md

- RA can attack the lungs in a similar way to the heart, inflaming the lining, or causing nodules. The pleurisy and the scarring both can be life threatening. Mayo clinic

- Rheumatoid Arthritis patients sometimes die from infections because the treatments suppress the immune system.

- Heart attack and heart disease risk is much higher. And much less recognized. RA causes inflammation and blockages of arteries.

- Rheumatoid Arthritis is associated with a shortened lifespan. Some reasons, like constant inflammation, are obvious. Others are not yet known. Studies show that the mortality gap is not improved by treatments. Medscape

- More widely known is the greater risk of cancer for RA patients. Some attribute this to the treatments used, but this is uncertain.

- There are dozens of other lesser known complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis which can contribute to early death including involvement of blood vessels, nerves, and other vital organs.

Some of these problems are rarer than others. Most of them are fairly low in incidence when measured separately. However, taken together, there is reason for concern. Risk increases with the severity of the disease; RA patients with a severe form of Rheumatoid Arthritis are more likely to see one of these in their future.

Maybe we do not talk about this because we do not want to dwell on fearful things. Maybe it is because we are too busy with learning to walk on knee replacements or trying to get our insurance to pay for the shots.

But, I worry because you can’t seek treatment until you know that there is a problem. Most of these problems are frequently undiagnosed in RA patients until they become severe. Why is that? That is a good question.


Angie said...

Do you know how many times I've heard, "Sucks to get old." or "What's a few achey joints?" or "Happens to us all." That's my favorite. People just don't understand what it's all about. They hear only "arthritis" and nothing else. It's hard to make people understand how it can ravage your body. And don't even get me started on the side effects from the treatments. The disease needs to have another name or else it will continue to be misunderstood.

Kelly Young said...

We think so much alike!
You must be right. ; )

Several months back, as I wrote my RA 101 for my upcoming site, I said the same thing: maybe we need a new name for RA.

For now, we can just answer RA instead of "Rheumatoid Arthritis."
I also avoid the word and try describing the disease first. As I said in the "...Wall " post, we must try, but then we are not responsible for the denial that some people insist upon having.

I CANNOT WAIT TO GET MY T-SHIRT PRINTED!!!! I may wear one every day... :D

Unknown said...

Thank-you, thank-you from the bottom of my heart for writing this post. I want to reread it and study the links. (I am slowly catching up on older posts on several RA blogs.)

One of the reasons I started researching, reading blogs, etc was to get an answer to the questions, "Can RA kill you?" and mainly "Could I be sick as I feel".

I am an older woman, looking for more blogs by seniors.

God Bless

Kelly Young said...

Thank you dear Dazey.

I have been doin lots of research, too over the last couple of years. I have lots of senior friends who read my blog. They will definately smile at your comment. ; D


Andrew said...

My neighbor in the early 1990s had a severe case of RA and was of course treated in the "dark ages." He was a haggard man even in his 5os. He had numerous surgeries and was on disability. And he died in his early 60s from heart problems related to RA. When I was first diagnosed with RA, it was really hard not to compare myself with him. I'm hoping that newer treatments will help us avoid such prognoses. are the Enbrel injections going?

Kelly Young said...

We are not in the 1950's any more thank God! But we have a long way to go...

Enbrel is still causing reactions. But it is begining to also give some relief. Nope - No cure yet. I'll let ya'll know. ;D Haha.

andrew said...

I'm glad to hear you're getting some relief from Enbrel. It's been two months for me and I still get reactions at times though not as bad as the first few times. I see it as a sign that it's working!

kc said...

When asked about my illness, I first respond by telling the asker that I have an autoimmune disease. If they press further, I will then tell them "RA" and give a short version of why it's not the same as OA. It takes a few minutes but keeps my head from exploding. I have been very surprised about the number of comments implying that RA is unpleasant but not serious. I almost envy the luxury of that type of ignorance.

Kelly Young said...

Ah, so well said KC!

I have tried that strategy, too.
I keep saying, "How can I get into your reality? Where RA is no big deal."

d@makeupbydeidra said...

Usually, people 1st say that I'm too young to have arthritis. My family has watched me grow up with this life crippling disease and even they, still treat me like I don't need as much help as I ask for or that I'm exaggerating my pain or lack of energy. Its so hurtful because its all I want is for people to understand that I'm as normal as my body allows, but I'm truly overwhelmed with physical and emotional stress. You're right arthritis is NOT what this disease should be called. It needs something long, ugly, and difficult to pronounce to get the point across. lol

Kelly Young said...


Your comment really riles me up to keep going. I am officially declaring war - WAR ON THE IGNORANCE AND ON THE DISEASE!

I'm so glad you found us here. And hey! I thought that "rheumatoid" is already a long and ugly word. How about if we say: rheumatoid disease?

Nice to meet ya,

Rachel said...

hey all,
Its a pity that the disease gets more attention because of the older folks who have it. I have lived with it my whole life I'm 25 by the way and I was diagnosed at 5 yrs old. so you can imagine the hell that my life has been. the doctors expected me to only live to the ripe old age of 21 =) yay for living past the estimated life expectancy.

I have been using the enbrel injections since october of 2002, it is a wonder drug and it gives me great hope for future treatments. shoot the only side effects I have had, have been some bruising and the weakened immune system.

is anyone else greatly concerned about the swine flu this season for obvious reasons?