Patient Story: “Rheumatoid Arthritis Does Not Define Me”
Author: Erin Manning, MBA
My journey with Rheumatoid Arthritis had a sudden start. The stiffness I felt in the pointer-finger on my right hand immediately sent up red flags that something was wrong. It wasn’t just that it was stiff, it’s that it actually hurt. And soon after, my thumb followed suit. This was in October of 2016, at the age of 38. The discomfort and lack of mobility continued to worsen so I scheduled an appointment with my primary care doctor. Through an exam and blood work he began to confirm what I feared: arthritis. He referred me to a rheumatologist and advised using Tylenol to address the pain until I could get in to see her. She was scheduled out six months! I made my appointment and had them add me to the cancellation list.
The symptoms and pain worsened. By December I was in so much pain that I was struggling to do even everyday tasks like getting dressed or preparing meals. Walking up the stairs to my office left me in tears. I hurt every day. I cried almost every day. Things were progressing so quickly!
Thankfully, the rheumatologist was able to see me in mid-December. At this appointment she confirmed that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis and that it was progressing unusually fast, especially for someone still in their 30s! At that appointment we started our treatment plan. It was also the day I committed to not rely solely on traditional medicine, with all of the undesirable side-effects to the medication, and advocate for my own health through education and natural therapies.
Over the last three years I’ve learned so much. I am thankful to have my arthritis well managed without having to add additional prescription medications or lose any daily mobility. My joints are not showing any signs of long term damage and most days are pain or discomfort free. It’s still something I think about and am aware of every day. I’m not without symptoms or effects. My fingers are starting to slightly curve, I have had a few nodes form, and there are days – especially during Kansas storms! – where the pain is still very prevalent. But overall, I’m healthy, strong, and doing well. I’m especially thankful that I have kept my immune system strong and healthy! I rarely get sick and I’m full of energy.
My disease does not define me.
Here are some of the things that have helped me the most:
Partnering with a rheumatologist who listens to my concerns, is open to the alternative methods and natural practices that I am choosing, and that supports me because she knows that I am making an informed decision for my own health. I keep my appointments with her faithfully. I seek her advice and opinion and I genuinely consider her recommendations. I do my own research and I’ve declined some of the treatment options that she has recommended but I have adopted just as many. I am incredibly thankful to have her guidance and expertise.
Partnering with a naturopathic clinic. In my case, that’s the Riordan Clinic. Full disclosure – I work here. I’ve been fortunate enough to be on staff since 2013 and have seen our doctors, lab, and medical staff do amazing things. I would consider my own health journey to be one of them. The Riordan Clinic is the reason why I knew to advocate for myself, educate myself, and demand more than just addressing symptoms.
Diet and lifestyle changes. I can’t say this loudly enough: sugar feeds inflammation. Inflammation is a source of many problems, not just arthritis. The inflammation that I’m talking about is inflammation in the cells, not just the inflammation we can see in our joints and swelling our skin. This kind of inflammation is what damages us. The more I cut out and stay away from refined sugars, the better I feel and the less pain and joint issues I have. Movement and exercise is also really important. Sitting at a desk all day can leave me stiff and hurting. Getting up and walking around throughout the day makes a huge difference! Setting a timer to remind me to get my steps in has been a useful tool. Finally, drinking adequate amounts of water each day also makes a noticeable difference!
- Omega 820, a fish oil capsule that has both EPA and DHA, makes a noticeable difference in reducing inflammation. It’s also really good for my heart health, which RA can be hard on.
- Turmeric helps with reducing pain and swelling. I take a capsule each day called Turmeric Supreme and I use a turmeric gummies for acute issues, typically when my hands are aching from typing too much, for example.
- Vitamin C, which seems to be good for just about everything, helps reduce inflammation as well. And it helps keep my immune system strong which is great considering the one prescription I do take actually weakens my immune system in the process.
- Vitamin D is another one of those vitamins that seems to help with everything but particularly in this situation.
Prescription Medications do play a role in my treatment plan. I take one prescription medication that my rheumatologist prescribed. When I first started taking it she said to expect to add more prescriptions and to have to increase my dose or change to stronger medications as my disease advanced. Over three years later, I’m on the same medication, same dose. I think that says a lot for how well the other things I’m doing are working.
One other prescription I take is Low Dose Naltrexone. Dr. Gael Wheeler, our Integrative Medicine specialist, has written a comprehensive article on this subject and so I will refer to that for a full explanation. For me, LDN has been a game changer. After years of my RA being under control, adding LDN this past October took that even one step further. I hurt even less often than before and I have experienced an increased range of motion.
I hope that you find this information helpful. In my experience, Rheumatoid Arthritis is an ugly, cruel disease. It has been hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I will have to deal with it every day for the rest of my life. But I’m thankful that I have a strong support system around me that has taught me not only to fight for my health, but to be an active participant in it. I know that each little decision I’ve made along the way, and each piece of information I learn, means success in the future. To me, that’s what REAL HEALTH means.
*Please note that this is written from a patient perspective. This is my personal experience and understanding. For more questions, I encourage you to reach out and schedule a time to meet with one of our providers to start your own journey. 800.447.7276