Autoimmune diseases arise from an overactive immune response of the body against substances and tissues normally present in the body. In other words, the body actually attacks its own cells. The immune system mistakes some part of the body as a pathogen and attacks it. [Wikipedia]
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body specifically attacks the joints and the cells around the joints, causing inflammation. This can cause chronic pain and eventually joint damage.
You’d think that the logic way to treat an autoimmune disease would be to suppress the immune system (a.k.a. the culprit attacking the body) with medications like chemotherapy (such as Methotrexate) and biologics (such as Cimzia or Enbrel for RA). Over time, the immunosuppressant helps with pain, inflammation, and joint damage because the immune system cannot attack the cells in the body if it is being suppressed.
But you can imagine that suppressing the body’s main defense system can also cause some other major problems. Without an immune system, the body is susceptible to serious infections, heart disease and even organ failure. It seems ironic that a patient with an autoimmune disease (already with a messed up immune system and weak cells) would be given medications to weaken their defense system even more and open up the gateways to serious infection!
And this is why I have had the month from hell (just when I thought I was on a track to getting my Rheumatoid Arthritis under control). What happened to May flowers? Mine are wilting fast.
Last week I started the antibiotic for the neurotoxin they found in my bloodstream and it just stirred up a variety of other infections in my body that were waiting to be released. Within a few days of taking the antibiotic (added to the normal immunosuppressents I take weekly) I had to have an emergency outpatient surgery for an infected gland that hadn’t flared up in over 18 months. Little did I know that the infection was still there and just waiting to flare up again. That was not the most fun way to welcome my sister to San Francisco (sorry, Lis).
A week later I was finally recovered from the surgery and just finished the first round of antibiotics. So I decided to cut loose a little and join in the fun at Bay to Breakers (for those of you who don’t know what B2B is, it’s basically a day of San Francisco debauchery – starting at 7am – including way too much alcohol – and is an excuse to put on costumes while walking [or dancing] around the city). Add alcohol to the week of antibiotics and my weekly dosage of chemotherapy and you get a body with no defense system. So I woke up on Monday morning with strep throat…and of course, another antibiotic (this time amoxicillin for ten days). I’m starting to get a bit sick of the antibiotics (especially since it severely limits my alcohol intake).
My doctor is going to put me on a long-term antibiotic (Minocin) to help prevent some of these various infections, but then don’t they say that antibiotics can stop working after long-term use? I don’t know what to believe, but I suppose I have to continue suppressing my immune system for now since it is the one causing me inflammation and could cause joint damage that would be long-term. I just hope I can get this autoimmune disease under control — and just my body under control.