By Julie Eller, Live Yes! With Arthritis Podcast Co-Host
An arthritis diagnosis comes with so many questions. How can I manage my pain? What should I do about my morning stiffness? What treatments will work best for a patient like me? Sometimes it is hard to know if you’ve asked all the right questions of your doctor.
One question that many people don’t realize they need to ask is, “What other diseases do I have to worry about now that I’m living with arthritis?”
Unfortunately, when you live with arthritis you are at a greater risk of developing other conditions as well. Whether they are related to the type of arthritis you have and how it affects you, side effects from treatment, or the mental weight of living with chronic pain, other conditions can arise for people with arthritis. In the latest episode of the Live Yes! With Arthritis Podcast, Rebecca and I got to talk with Dr. Amanda Nelson, a rheumatologist and professor with extensive experience in arthritis research. During the episode we discuss some of the conditions that commonly go with different types of arthritis and how they are related.
This episode served as a helpful framing tool for Rebecca and me. As patients, hosts of the show and employees at the Arthritis Foundation, sometimes it feels like we eat, sleep and breathe arthritis. But in talking with Dr. Nelson, we heard the gentle reminder that arthritis is a whole-body disease, even if the word simply means inflammation of the joints. And as such, arthritis can affect other parts of our bodies, leading to additional diseases.
Dr. Nelson shared that people with autoimmune forms of arthritis have systemic inflammation that can affect many different organ systems and increase the risk for conditions like cardiovascular disease. She pointed out that rheumatoid arthritis carries the same level of cardiovascular risk as diabetes due to systemic inflammation.
But arthritis-related conditions are not limited to folks who live with an autoimmune form of the disease. For people living with osteoarthritis, pain often makes physical activity and even sleeping through the night more difficult. This can lead to related problems like weight gain or sleep disorders. And importantly, the cascading impacts of arthritis can add up to a heavy mental health burden.
This episode reminded me that my arthritis symptoms do not live in isolation from my total health, and that when I am experiencing heightened anxiety and feelings of depression, they are linked to my chronic pain. It was also helpful to think about the conditions that I am at a greater risk of developing simply by virtue of having an autoimmune disease. While there are so many things that I can’t control with my arthritis, knowing that my risk of heart disease is higher than average does motivate me to take control of other areas of my life, especially physical activity and diet.
Sometimes the hardest part of arthritis is figuring out what questions we should ask of our health care providers. This episode is special to me because it encourages listeners to learn more about how arthritis can impact their whole body and the steps they can take to mitigate their risk of developing other conditions related to their arthritis. Listen today!