Kathleen Turner health: Actress’ struggles due to rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis: NHS on common signs and symptoms

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Not only was rheumatoid arthritis causing her unimaginable pain, the medication the actress used to cope had severe side effects, causing her mind to go “fuzzy” among other things. With incredible career highlights like starring alongside Michael Douglas in Netflix drama The Kominsky Method and voicing Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Turner, now 67, said that it was “hard to understand the level of pain that [her] disease brings”. First diagnosed with the condition in her late 30s, Turner kept the source of her illness hidden due to the pressure of Hollywood and the very little public knowledge of autoimmune diseases at the time.

“Rheumatoid arthritis hit in my late 30s — the last of my years in which Hollywood would consider me a sexually appealing leading lady,” she told Vulture magazine.

“At that time there was very little public knowledge about autoimmune diseases, so my illness was a source of bad mystery.

“I was told I would be in a wheelchair the rest of my life because of rheumatoid arthritis and at that time 20-years ago they had none of the medications that we have now. They were created about 18 years ago.”

Going on to explain how severe her symptoms had gotten over the years, Turner added: “My hands couldn’t hold a hug and it would slip and people would go ‘Oh’ as if I had been drinking or something.”

Unlike other forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis develops when the body’s immune system, which usually fights infection, turns on itself and attacks the cells that line the joints.

These cells then make the joints swollen, stiff and painful. Along with these painful symptoms, over a longer period of time irreversible damage can be done to the cartilage and nearby bone.

The NHS explains that pain and stiffness is typically worse in the mornings or after a period of inactivity and over time, rheumatoid nodules can develop under the skin around affected joints.

Although the symptoms might be similar to other types of arthritis such as osteoarthritis, individuals with rheumatoid arthritis tend to suffer symptoms for longer periods of time, not just around 30 minutes.

In addition, rheumatoid arthritis can cause general symptoms such as:

  • Tiredness and a lack of energy
  • A high temperature
  • Sweating
  • A poor appetite
  • Weight loss.

Depending on where rheumatoid arthritis strikes, other parts of the body that can be affected include the eyes, and chest.

The NHS explains that although the condition is incurable, treatments for rheumatoid arthritis can help to reduce inflammation in the joints, relieve pain, prevent or slow down joint damage, reduce disability and enable individuals to stay active as possible.

These treatments are particularly effective if they are administered as early as possible after diagnosis.

Medication is one of the most common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and is divided into two main types: disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biological treatments.

DMARDs work by blocking the effects of the chemicals which are released when the immune system first attacks the joints. Once blocked, these chemicals cannot cause any further damage to nearby bones, tendons and cartilage.

Contrastingly, biological treatments are given through injection and work by stopping particular chemicals from the blood from activating the immune system to attack the joints. Although extremely effective, this type of treatment can cause multiple side effects including:

  • Skin reactions at the site of the injections
  • Infections
  • Feeling sick
  • A high temperature
  • Headaches.

As well as specialised medication, painkillers can be used in the short-term to relieve pain and inflammation, particularly during flare-ups.

Physiotherapy may be used in conjunction with medication and can help to improve an individual’s fitness and muscle strength. A physiotherapist may also be able to help with pain relief using heat or ice packs, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).

If damage to the joints still occurs even after treatments, surgery may be used to replace whole joints.

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