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