Outside the lines

It seems that so much of our time managing RA centers around the main aspects of the disease itself, i.e. the joint pain, swelling, fatigue, etc. that it may be far too easy to ignore some other issues that fall “outside the lines” of RA but may still be linked.

For instance, side effects of our medications can be troublesome and in some cases may actually prohibit the use of a specific medication.  I won’t go into the myriad of possibilities here but suffice it to say that we all need to pay close attention to the list of potential side effects, track any unusual new symptoms you develop while taking it and report it to your physician. Don’t assume that the way you are feeling is part of RA. That may not be the case at all.  One example I can share has to do with stomach discomfort.  I had been having reflux like symptoms (and taking the corresponding medications to treat it) for many years and it was attributed to the RA meds. I had and still was taking. Come to find out that it was actually a Para Esophageal Hiatal Hernia that likely was instigated from the years of taking Corticosteriods among other possibilities.  I ended up having a surgical correction that saved my life (literally).

Bruising is yet another issue outside the lines.  Once again, this may or may not be directly related to RA but likely is at least somewhat connected.  It can be troublesome and makes many of us fear the least little bump!

Headaches also is an issue for many folks with RA.  I sometimes think they are connected and other times wonder if they are related at all.  It only matters when you try to sort out treatment options or are deciding how best to deal with them.  I have had headaches for many years but the intensity has certainly increased since RA entered my life.  I wonder if stress is part of it too. I also think sinus issues can be a problem for RA sufferers so perhaps that plays into it too in terms of headaches.

Muscle aches not joint pain per say can be connected but not a primary symptom.  By this I mean limb cramps and aches.  I get calf cramps that I wonder about.  Do they relate to the joint issues?  I would be surprised if they are not.

Weight gain and belly fat in particular are fun to deal with and seem to have entered the picture after RA.  Why?  Slowing down my workout regimen?  The use of corticosteroids? Stress eating? Most likely any or all of the above. This is one of the most nagging and personally difficult ones for me to handle.  It is enough that my appearance changed just from the disease itself without having this charming piece to deal with as well.  I am careful about my diet and exercise very regularly but despite all of that, ridding myself of those extra RA pounds remains a serious challenge and one I am far from meeting.

Dryness – skin, eyes, mouth, etc. is so annoying.  For many of us this blossoms into full blown Sjogren’s Syndrome which is an autoimmune problem that a lot of RA patients experience.  I am one of them.  I have over the counter drops for my eyes, a special toothpaste for my mouth and lots and lots of creams to apply to my skin!  All of these help but it’s yet another one of the issues that lies just “outside the lines” of RA.

Lastly, it is important to stay on top of any and all new and unusual bodily issues you experience since the very nature of RA means that other organs and functions can be impacted.

If we each stay vigilant about the different items that fall “outside the lines” of RA we can effectively deal with them before they become troublesome.

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