Inflamed Brain

Last updated: July 2017

On July 1st of 2016, the Rheumatology Research Foundation announced 85 recipients of education, training, and research funding. The financial awards serve various functions: "One example is the Investigator Award, which encourages junior investigators to continue innovative research into the cause, prevention and treatment of rheumatic diseases. Another award, the Scientist Development Award, supports individuals who are in the early stages of their research career as they strive to establish themselves as investigators in the field."1

The Rheumatology Research Foundation is run in part by donations, and anyone from patients, family members, and professionals can get involved in the work being done through volunteer opportunities.

One research grant I recently heard about went to Jarred W. Younger, Ph.D., director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Neuroinflammation, Pain, and Fatigue Laboratory. Dr. Younger is a professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, and also holds secondary appointments in anesthesiology and rheumatology in the School of Medicine. The funding he received is a pilot grant to study neuroinflammation (inflammation of nervous tissue like the brain and spinal chord) and its possible connection to rheumatoid arthritis.

To study whether or not neuroinflammation may be involved in the fatigue, brain fog, and depression that are very common in rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Younger is employing a method called Brain Thermometry. According to Dr. Younger, "Using a thermometer is common in finding out if you have a fever or not... Brain thermometry will someday allow physicians to do the same thing with the brain, giving us a chance to measure neuroinflammation that causes significant pain, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction and depressed mood. Brain inflammation may explain why individuals with rheumatoid arthritis complain of fatigue and other symptoms, even though their joint inflammation is reduced by medication.”2

Neuroinflammation has been associated with various potential causes such as traumatic brain injury, infection, toxic metabolites, and importantly for those of us with RA, autoimmunity.3

In our own survey of RA in America of 2015, 84% of the near 3,100 respondents reported fatigue as a persistent symptom. It was also the most common symptom. Various medical studies put the occurrence of fatigue in RA patients between 42-80%.4 The rate varies due to the population samples and data collection methods employed.

If you are experiencing unrelenting fatigue, you are not alone. Fatigue is highly correlated with the disease though it is not the main target of treatment. If you are like me, you have heard that controlling the disease with DMARDS should reduce fatigue, but have found that even when the inflammation is absent, the mind-crushing exhaustion can still persist.

The study being undertaken by Dr. Younger is certainly right on track with the Rheumatology Research Foundations stated goal: "To continue innovative research into the cause, prevention and treatment of rheumatic diseases."5 As someone who lives with RA, I look forward to seeing where this goes. Fatigue is a constant companion of mine arriving a few months before diagnosis, and has markedly changed my life.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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