People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have roughly twice the risk of healthy older adults of developing shingles, a virus related to chickenpox that causes pain and a blistering rash.
Most adults have been exposed to varicella zoster virus, which causes chickenpox. This virus is never completely cleared from our bodies, but lies quietly in spinal nerve cells. If it’s reactivated it causes shingles, explains rheumatologist Jeffrey Curtis, MD, professor medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The reactivated virus is called herpes zoster or shingles.
Slow-healing wounds, including leg and foot ulcers, are a known complication of several autoimmune inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus and scleroderma. For many people, these wounds can take months or even years to heal.
“People with RA develop wounds for many reasons,” says Eric Matteson, MD, chairman of rheumatology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “One is that they may have low-grade vasculitis – inflammation affecting the small blood vessels in the skin. When the wound is related to the underlying systemic inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis, not having that inflammation under control makes it much more difficult to achieve good wound healing.”
As you know, rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of the joints, but a subset of people with RA say
that it can also take a toll on a very important organ: the brain. They describe feeling forgetful, unable to concentrate and gripped by the “blahs.” In other words, they say that rheumatoid arthritis gives them an unshakable case of brain fog.
Brain fog isn’t a medical term, but doctors have long recognized that patients with certain physical conditions (such as lupus and multiple sclerosis) can experience cognitive dysfunction, or the diminished ability to think, learn, remember and perform other mental tasks. Not all doctors who treat rheumatoid arthritis are convinced that brain fog represents an important concern for their patients. Yet recent research offers clues that diseases featuring chronically elevated inflammation, such as RA, may hinder healthy brain performance.
“I see it all the time,” says Marian Rissenberg, PhD, a neuropsychologist who works with patients coping with cognitive problems at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York. “These people are not malingerers.”