Did My RA Help Me Beat COVID-19?

Although I took precautions and practiced social distancing, somehow, I still contracted COVID-19. It was unpleasant, but I am OK and was able to safely recover at home. But the experience has left me wondering: is my RA meaner than the virus? Did it play a role in helping me conquer it?

RA patients and coronavirus risk

A recent article from the New England Journal of Medicine examined cases of COVID-19 in patients with previous inflammatory (autoimmune) diseases.

The good news was that these individuals did about the same as other patients on average — not worse. I was encouraged by this news and am hoping the data persists in showing people with RA (excluding other complications) are not at greater risk from the virus.

Questions still remain

The bad news is that there are still more questions than answers about the impact of the virus on people with autoimmune diseases and interactions with their treatments. Do treatments like biologics affect recovery? Do variations in an individual’s RA impact the progress of the virus? What about the impact of co-occurring conditions?

Illness, the immune system, and RA

As a kid, before effective treatments for my juvenile rheumatoid arthritis were available, I didn’t get sick very often. In fact, I won perfect attendance awards several years at school. In retrospect, I have wondered if having an out-of-control immune system helped to keep me healthy (although the downside was painful joint damage!).

Less achy and swollen joints

Sometimes when I am sick and fighting some type of bacteria or virus, my RA symptoms improve. I will have less joint swelling, pain, and stiffness. While being sick is no fun, it is a relief from the constant attack of my RA. I have wondered at these times if the illness is distracting my immune system and thereby slowing my RA by keeping it busy in battle.

Changes in RA symptoms while having coronavirus

When I first came down with coronavirus, I didn’t notice any change in my RA. But a few days in I was shocked: my usually hugely swollen left ankle was deflated and normal looking! I was so excited I took a picture! I fantasized about temporarily taking up ankle modeling (that’s a thing, right?). And then I noticed I was less achy and swollen in other joints. It was like an RA-vacation!

How long would this relief last?

It made me wonder: is my RA taking a break from munching my joints and instead is consuming the virus? And how long would this relief last? The answer to the duration was a few days. I think it was 10 days later that I noticed my ankle resuming the usual swelling. But the aches returned earlier and have been growing in amplitude. Now I am noticing more pain in my shoulders, fingers, and other joints that were not bothering me before.

Intensity of RA symptoms after?

I am left to ponder the possibility of a period of RA aggression. Maybe it was distracted by the virus or quieted by my immune battle with it, and now it wants its revenge. It does feel stronger and I am hoping this is temporary and that it will calm down or resume normal levels soon.

Grateful for coronavirus recovery

Before I fell sick, I worried a lot. I worried about the interaction of my RA and the virus, and what that may mean for me. I also worried that my immune-suppressing treatment for my RA would make the virus worse and my recovery more difficult.

Thankfully, I did not have a severe case of coronavirus. I will likely never know why. Maybe I am just lucky. Maybe my RA is meaner than coronavirus and beat it up in the back alley behind the dumpster. But I am glad my RA treatment did not seem to impact my recovery and that, although I had to delay my biologic a couple days, in the end, it was OK.

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