Wed | Jan 26, 2022

Rheumatoid arthritis: The life changer

Published:Wednesday | May 19, 2021 | 12:11 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer
Suzette Shaw-Reid living with rheumatoid arthritis.
Suzette Shaw-Reid living with rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis can be life-changing. You may need long-term treatment to control the symptoms and joint damage. Depending on how much pain and stiffness you feel and how much joint damage you have, simple daily tasks may become difficult or take longer to do.

You may need to adapt the way you do everyday tasks, or make changes to your lifestyle, to help you manage your condition. Self-care is an important part of daily life in managing rheumatoid arthritis, and it involves taking responsibility for your own health and well-being with support from people involved in your care.

For several years, Suzette Shaw-Reid experienced unexplainable joint pains throughout most of her body. With many personal and professional challenges at the time, the pain intensified to the point where she needed a cane to assist her in walking.

“At first, it was mostly joint pains all over but especially in my left knee. Eventually, I had to have it drained. My eyes would get foggy, I would experience feelings of fatigue or malaise, especially when I was exposed to very hot and humid temperature changes, horrible brain fog, dizziness, itchy skin, chills, back pains and low-grade fever,” she said.

Shaw-Reid had no idea what the triggers were; however, following an appointment with her rheumatologist, she was diagnosed with palindromic rheumatism.

Palindromic rheumatism is a rare form of arthritis that causes symptoms to flare up periodically and then disappear, leaving no lasting damage to the joints. Palindromic rheumatism is a form of inflammatory arthritis, and this means that it causes inflammation, pain, and swelling around the affected joints.

However, her erythrocyte sedimentation rate test (ESR) results were very high, which became a cause for concern. An ESR test is sometimes called a sedimentation rate test or sed rate test. This blood test does not diagnose one specific condition. Instead, it helps your healthcare provider determine whether you are experiencing inflammation.

Your doctor will look at ESR results along with other information or test results to help figure out a diagnosis. The tests ordered will depend on your symptoms.

In 2011, Shaw-Reid was executing a school tour for the company she was working with and it required her to carry many drawstring bags. It was at this point that her wrists gave way, and she noticed a small lump that started to develop on her right wrist.

“It grew until eventually I had to do an operational procedure to remove it. When the lump was assessed, my doctor at the time said it appeared abnormal and sent it to be tested. The results came back that I was positive with rheumatoid arthritis,” she said.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that can cause joint pain and damage throughout your body. The joint damage that RA causes usually happens on both sides of the body.

So, if a joint is affected in one of your arms or legs, the same joint in the other arm or leg will probably be affected, too. This is one way that doctors distinguish RA from other forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis.

“I was in serious denial. I strongly felt at the time I ate very healthily, exercised and I look good so that the diagnosis could not be true about me. Unfortunately, my version of healthy back then included a lot of foods my body was allergic to, for example, peanuts, orange juice, gluten, dairy to include a few, and hence my constant pain,” Shaw-Reid said.

“I cried at first and played the victim, but the minute I accepted that maybe there is an association that each time rain set up, my body would have a negative reaction, or when I drank or ate acidic food, I would feel aches and pains, it started to make sense to stop doing these things and find ways to control this ailment,” she said.

Treatments work best when RA is diagnosed early, so it is important to learn the signs. It is important to take your medicine as instructed, even if you start to feel better, as medicine can help prevent flare-ups and reduce the risk of further problems, such as joint damage.

“I take my medication and I made drastic dietary changes which happened gradually. Learning to eat for my ‘O’ Positive blood type also helped. I started being consistent with exercise and stopped focusing on how intense I exercised but made sure I was doing some form of activity daily. This included getting reflexology treatments. One way to control your pain is to always keep moving, which keeps your blood and oxygen flowing,” Shaw-Reid said.

“I observe and track my flare-up by keeping a food dairy. I take supplements and herbs and I also reframed the way I spoke to myself and to others. I practise affirmations, hydrate, changed products I used on my skin and in my hair, took myself out of toxic environs, which included jobs, stopping certain friendships, learning to say no, created boundaries and, most important, developed a closer relationship with God, leaning on His understanding and not my own,” she added.

As rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term condition, you will be in contact with your healthcare provider regularly so they can check if your condition is being well controlled and if your treatment is right for you.