Living with a health condition? On the PatientsLikeMe blog, find helpful health information and patient stories about being diagnosed, trying different treatments, and living day-to-day with a chronic condition.

6 Treatment Options for Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you’ve been living with rheumatoid arthritis, you know that the symptoms can be unpredictable. You may feel good one day and have a flare-up the next. It’s not possible to eliminate RA symptoms, but several treatment options are available that can help you manage them.   The first line of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is usually medication. However, physical and occupational therapy can also be effective for symptom management and improving quality of life. Surgery can help reduce pain and improve functioning.  Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are one of the most common treatment options for RA. They can help relieve RA pain, swelling, and inflammation. NSAIDs do not change the course of the disease or prevent joint destruction and are often used in conjunction with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS).  NSAIDs work on a chemical level in the body. They block cyclooxygenase (COX), an enzyme the body uses to make naturally occurring fatty acids called prostaglandins that play a role in pain and inflammation. Most NSAIDs block COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, while some only block COX-2. These are known as COX-2 inhibitors.   Common NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). Many NSAIDs are available over the counter and stronger ones are available as prescriptions.   Although NSAIDs are generally safe, they do have some side effects. These include:   Stomach …

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4 Types of Multiple Sclerosis (Plus Two You Didn’t Know About)

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic autoimmune condition that impacts the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. It affects nearly one million people in the United States and more than 2.3 million people worldwide. MS is a progressive disease, meaning it can get worse over time without treatment. However, treatment can’t always slow the progression of the disease. There are four types of multiple sclerosis: clinically isolated syndrome, relapsing-remitting MS, primary progressive MS, and secondary progressive MS.   Common symptoms of MS that can occur at any stage include numbness and tingling, muscle spasms, loss of balance, and spasticity. Other symptoms that can occur with the condition include fatigue, cognitive changes, and weakness.   Multiple sclerosis is a complex and unpredictable disease. Because there is no way to know for certain how someone’s MS will progress, there is no set timeline for how long it will take to move from one stage to the next.   Clinically Isolated Syndrome   Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) is one type of multiple sclerosis. With CIS, the first episode of neurologic symptoms lasts at least 24 hours. These include:  Numbness or tingling   Dizziness and shakiness  Muscle stiffness  Paralysis  Vision changes, such as double vision  Bladder or bowel dysfunction   CIS is caused by inflammation or demyelination, which is the loss of myelin. Myelin is a protective sheath of fatty tissue that protects the nerve cells, including those in the brain and spinal cord. Damage to the myelin sheath interrupts nerve signals from …

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5 Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis, affecting 1.3 million adults in the United States. It’s an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body instead of protecting them. A healthy immune system protects against germs and sends fighter cells to attack them. But with autoimmune diseases, the immune system treats normal cells like foreign cells and releases autoantibodies that attack healthy cells. Autoantibodies are antibodies that mistakenly target a person’s own tissue or organs. Experts are unsure about what causes autoimmune diseases, but one theory is that microorganisms like bacteria and viruses trigger changes that confuse the immune system.   When you have RA, the immune system sends antibodies to the lining of your joints. The antibodies then attack the tissue surrounding the joints. This causes soreness and inflammation in the layer of cells, called the synovium, that covers your joints. The synovium releases chemicals that can damage bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. If left untreated, these chemicals can cause the joint to lose its shape and alignment. Over time, these chemicals can destroy the joint completely.   RA is 2.5 times more common in women than men. While it can develop at any age, it most commonly occurs in people between the ages of 20 and 50. Late-onset RA or elderly-onset RA occurs when it develops in people between the ages of 60 and 65.  Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:  Joint stiffness that is often worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity  Joint pain …

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Medications for Multiple Sclerosis

Although there is currently no cure for multiple sclerosis, there are several medications that can help improve the quality of life for MS patients. Medications can help ease symptoms, keep the disease from progressing, and reduce the frequency of a relapse. Medications for multiple sclerosis include pills, injections, or infusions. Finding the right medication to treat your MS may take time. It may also take time to see improvements. Once you have established a treatment plan with your healthcare providers, continue to follow it until your providers tell you to stop. Make sure you communicate any side effects you experience. Remember that each person’s body may respond to medication differently. Disease-modifying Drugs Disease-modifying drugs (DMDs) are a group of drugs that modify or influence the underlying disease course. They are also known as immunomodulatory drugs. DMDs target some aspect of the inflammatory process of MS. This reduces the frequency and severity of relapses. DMDs also help prevent new brain lesions. The FDA has approved 17 disease-modifying agents for MS as of 2019. DMDs cannot reverse or halt MS. But they can slow disease progression. This means less damage will accumulate over time, resulting in fewer relapses and symptoms. It is …

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Everything You Need to Know About the Weather and Parkinson’s Disease

As the seasons change, you may notice your Parkinson’s disease symptoms getting worse. You may be more sensitive to temperature, experience more fatigue, and movement may become slower. Though it’s not often talked about, extreme changes in weather can exacerbate symptoms.  Many patients with Parkinson’s disease report greater stiffness and pain during the winter months, along with more freezing and slowness. Others report that shivering from the cold makes their tremors worse. Falls related to Parkinson’s also often occur more often during freezing episodes.  Some patients may also experience worsened symptoms during the summer months. Heat and humidity can make it hard for the body to function properly. Some patients report feeling “drained” or exhausted during the summer.   The four main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia, and postural instability. But there are non-motor symptoms as well, such as fatigue, excessive daytime sleepiness, and cognitive changes.   How Does Weather Affect Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms?  Weather changes are difficult for many people, but they can be even more challenging for people with Parkinson’s. Since Parkinson’s affects the nervous system, which controls body temperature, patients can be more sensitive to heat and cold. In the winter, Parkinson’s patients may have a harder time feeling and staying warm. In the summer, extreme heat can make it difficult for the muscles to work properly.   Research has …

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What is Seasonal Depression?

As the weather gets colder and days become shorter, you may notice you have less energy, feel a little less optimistic and spend more time alone. While this may not be a cause for concern, about 5% of the U.S population experience seasonal depression during the fall and winter months.   Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a subtype of depression that begins and ends around the same time every year. This recurrent pattern generally begins in the fall or early winter months and ends around springtime, lasting about four to five months per year. This is known as winter-pattern SAD or winter depression. For people in the United States, the most difficult months tend to be January and February.  Many people get a mild version of SAD known as the “winter blues.” As much as 20% of the population may get the winter blues, which is usually linked to something specific, such as holiday stress or grief over missing loved ones. The winter blues isn’t a medical diagnosis and usually goes away on its own after a few weeks or months.  Some people might have depressive episodes during the spring and summer. This is known as summer-pattern SAD or summer depression, which affects about 10% of the population.   What causes seasonal depression?  Although the exact cause of SAD is unknown, it has been linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and …

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6 Possible Causes of Multiple Sclerosis

If you’re living with multiple sclerosis, you probably have a lot of questions about your diagnosis. You might be wondering how you developed the disease and what your outlook is. While the course of the disease will vary from person to person, an exact cause has yet to be identified. Scientists have found that a combination of factors often causes multiple sclerosis.  What happens when you have MS?  Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune condition, which means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells rather than protecting them. It is unclear why the immune system does this or what prevents it from being able to identify healthy cells versus invaders. Because the autoimmune response is unknown, there aren’t any absolute cures for autoimmune disorders.   When it comes to MS, the immune system attacks healthy cells in the myelin, the protective sheath that surrounds nerves in the brain and spinal cord. When the myelin sheath is damaged, nerve signals from the brain to other parts of the body are interrupted. This damage can cause symptoms such as muscle spasms, stiffness, and weakness, or lack of coordination.  What are some of the causes of MS?  There are several factors that researchers believe can cause multiple sclerosis. Genetics  Genetics is one possible cause of multiple sclerosis. Although MS is not an …

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Medication-Free Ways To Feel Better With Parkinson’s Disease

Getting a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis can be overwhelming. This neurodegenerative disorder affects movement and doesn’t have a cure, but with the right medications and complementary or alternative therapies, symptoms can be managed.  Incorporating medication-free ways into Parkinson’s treatment can help people living with the condition improve their health and well-being, along with preserving physical function and enhancing quality of life.  Music therapy   A 2015 study published in Frontiers in Neurology found that playing and listening music can be beneficial for managing the movement and emotional aspects of Parkinson’s disease. Rhythm enhances connections between the motor and auditory systems, and areas that involve rhythm perception are closely related to those that regulate movement. A regular rhythmic pulse stimulates activity in the putamen, a part of the brain that is involved in learning and motor control. Rhythm also influences the kinetic system and facilitates movement synchronization, coordination, and regularization.  Another study that is being conducted by the University of Colorado School of Medicine is examining the effects of therapeutic instrumental music performance (TIMP) on Parkinson’s patients. TIMP uses specific movement and rhythm combinations to “reprogram” certain brain frequencies.   According to one of the study conductors, Parkinson’s most likely affects beta frequencies, which are generated when the brain is actively engaged in mental activities. The concept behind the study is to use external rhythms to target beta frequencies and restore them …

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MS and Stress: Managing the Holidays

Stress is a normal part of life for many people. For some, holidays can be especially stressful because of gift buying, traveling, and making holiday dinners. If you have multiple sclerosis, the stress of the holidays can be compounded by managing your illness on top of everything else.  Living with MS is not only a physical hurdle, but the effort it takes to manage the illness can increase your stress levels. During the holidays, you might feel like you need to explain your condition and request certain accommodations for traveling, dinner parties, or other holiday events. This can get emotionally exhausting, and you might feel yourself getting anxious whenever you have to socialize. There is also the stress of adapting to new symptoms as the disease progresses and the unpredictable nature of MS.   Studies have shown that stressful life events are associated with a significant increase in the risk of MS exacerbations. The impact can last weeks or months after the onset of the stressor. For example, if you have MS and you lose your job or have concerns about paying hospital bills, you may notice that your flare-ups are more frequent or worse months after the event has passed.   Long-term or continuous …

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