Autoimmune arthritis refers to any of a group of joint diseases that involve autoimmunity. Essentially, it is a condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own joints and soft tissue. It is different than the degenerative forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, which is primarily due to aging and physical wear and tear on the joints.
According to the International Autoimmune Arthritis Movement (IAAM), among the specific diseases classified as autoimmune arthritis are:
*Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
*Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA), Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)
*Primary Sjogren’s Syndrome (SS)
*Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE)
*Juvenile Arthritis (JA)
*Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD)
*Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease/Undifferentiated Spondyloarthropathy (UCTD/USpA)
Autoimmune arthritis tends to be genetically caused. If one member of a family has one of the diseases listed above, it is very common for another family member to have the same condition or one of the other listed conditions.
The most common symptoms suffered by those with autoimmune arthritis include joint pain, joint inflammation, inflammation of the connective tissues or soft tissues, flu-like symptoms, brain fog, fatigue and low grade fever.
Research has shown that diagnosing the disease within 6 months of the initial onset of symptoms offers the greatest hope for remission. Unfortunately, the average time to diagnosis is 1 to 3 years, as symptoms can be attributed to other conditions and they do not tend to be severe at the beginning of the disease.
Some of the early onset symptoms include the following:
*Costochondritis (an inflammation of the connective tissue between the ribs)
*Joint pain on one or both sides
*Unexplained injury in which the person feels they have injured themselves or gotten a sprain, but with no injury having occurred
*Feeling stiff after periods of inactivity
*Pain that comes and goes from one day to another, moving to different parts of the body with no apparent cause
*Skin problems, such as flaking and rashes
*Unusual fatigue that can sometimes be mistaken for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
*Locking of the joints, causing frequent clumsiness
*Loss of appetite and/or nausea
Although degenerative arthritis can often be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs or joint replacement surgery, the only conventional treatment for autoimmune arthritis is a class of drugs that works by suppressing the immune system, called “disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs” (DMARDS). However, while these may help to control the symptoms, the suppression of the immune system leads to other problems such as liver disease and an increased susceptibility to infections. There is currently no cure for autoimmune arthritis, though symptoms can be controlled to varying degrees with medication, diet, natural remedies and holistic therapies such as chiropractic and massage therapy.