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Rheumatoid Arthritis


Were your hands a bit stiff this morning? It could easily be nothing. Alternatively, it could be the first twinges of a crippling joint inflammation that will slowly twist your fingers into pretzels and launch a lifetime of progressive disability that has no known cause, and no effective treatment options.

Victims of rheumatoid arthritis can choose between stomach-gnawing anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin -- or the weight gain, diabetes and hypertension of steroids such as Prednisone -- neither of which is likely to offer any apparent cure. If you show dissatisfaction with these options, your doctor is likely to discharge you to the care of a rhematologist that lives 50 miles away and is booked up for two years.

Your sense of injustice is likely to be compounded by the apparent randomness of an illness that can hit just about anybody and has a highly unpredictable course. The arthritis supposedly results from a misfiring immune system that creates antibodies accidentally targeted against your own the tender joint tissues, but specialists are still baffled about what makes attacks wax and wane -- and sometimes go dormant forever.

In the mean time, it is easy for the 1% of us with RA to get discouraged. You can freeze while trying to unlock your front door, or starve to death trying to open a jar of peanut butter. Or you can choose to follow the example of the French impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who tied brushes to his hands and went on to create some of the most beautiful paintings in history.

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