While the good news is that more and more Americans are being vaccinated against COVID-19 each day, we’re not out of the woods yet. In fact, the CDC modeling estimates up to two million new cases of COVID-19 will be diagnosed each week in February.
Health experts repeatedly warn certain segments of the population of their elevated risk of developing a severe illness related to this viral infection, including those with immune system struggles. If you’re a patient with arthritis, you may wonder how these warnings affect you.
At Interventional Pain and Regenerative Medicine Specialists in Arlington, Virginia, John Huffman, MD, and our team want to ensure you have the most up-to-date information about this global pandemic, especially if you have an underlying autoimmune condition like inflammatory arthritis.
If your arthritis stems from a faulty immune system, take a moment to learn what you need to know about COVID-19 and arthritis!
Your immune system explained
Your immune system plays an important role in fighting off viral infections, like the common cold, the flu, and COVID-19. Made of a complex system of cells, tissues, and organs throughout your body, the immune system works together to fight off harmful pathogens and keep you well.
When a virus enters your body, your immune system leaps into action and creates a response designed to (1) fight off (or kill) the virus, and (2) create antibodies to offer protection against future attacks.
If your body cannot achieve one or both objectives, you have a compromised immune system. This means your immune system isn’t functioning optimally and you’re at higher risk of infection and/or getting a serious illness related to the infection.
COVID-19 and the risk of serious illness
Medical researchers and healthcare providers are still working to better understand COVID-19, a novel (new) coronavirus. So far, they’ve learned that certain segments of the population have a greater risk of developing serious illness after contracting the disease.
Those at higher risk include all people over age 65 and people with:
- Existing respiratory problems (e.g., asthma)
- Serious heart conditions
- Liver disease
- Compromised immune systems
If you have arthritis, you may wonder if the last item on the list should raise a red flag for you. Whether this is a factor that relates to you depends on the type of arthritis you have.
People with inflammatory arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have an overall higher risk of developing infections. There is some evidence that shows this is true with COVID-19 as well.
Recent data suggests people with RA and inflammatory arthritis may be at higher risk of getting the infection and developing serious complications once infected. In addition, if your RA or inflammatory arthritis isn’t under control and is active, your body may not be able to fight off viral infections, like COVID-19.
The link between arthritis medications and COVID-19
If you’re like most people with inflammatory or autoimmune-related arthritis, the medication you take may weaken your immune system since the cause of your arthritis is an overactive immune system.
It’s important that you don’t stop taking any prescribed medications without consulting with Dr. Huffman or your medical provider as there are many factors that help determine the proper course of treatment weighed against the risk of COVID-19.
For example, before changing your medications, our team assesses other risk factors you may have as they relate to COVID-19. We also investigate the proactive, preventive measures you have in place to protect yourself from the virus.
Most of the time, our patients with immune-related arthritis continue their treatments to keep their discomfort and pain at bay. We recommend being especially vigilant and proactive about protecting yourself against COVID-19, but typically the pros of treatment and the ability to maintain your lifestyle outweigh the risk of discontinuing your medications.
It’s true that there is still much the medical community doesn’t understand about COVID-19, so be sure to err on the side of caution and do all you can to prevent infection. Practice social distancing, wear a mask and practice good hygiene, and follow all public health orders to mitigate your risk.
If you have any questions about your arthritis and COVID-19, don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Huffman at the Northern Virginia office of Interventional Pain and Regenerative Medicine Specialists. You can also book an in-person or telehealth appointment using our online booking tool!