Recently at MultipleSclerosisCentral.com, I mentioned that I would begin writing here at MyRACentral.com. Several of the commenters on that post shared that they too have both MS and RA. I also received several emails asking questions about my experience living with both multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, including an e-mail from a reader asking me which disease was diagnosed first. She also wanted to know if symptoms from the primary disease delayed the diagnosis of the second disease.
I'm amazed by the number of people who step forward to tell me about their own combination of these two disabling diseases. Many of us have experienced difficulty in receiving an accurate diagnosis of one autoimmune disease. Imagine if you had two.
Research shows that having one autoiummune disease can delay the diagnosis of a second autoimmune disease, potentially leading to increased disability (See "Comorbidities Delay MS Diagnoses and Increase Disability" in Neurology, Multiple Sclerosis from MedPage Today).
It is hard to know if symptoms of multiple sclerosis or symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis delayed the diagnosis of either disease in my case. My journey reached a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in October 2005 with the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in April 2007, only 18 months later. But it was in 1993 that I first experienced symptoms now believed to be related to multiple sclerosis. These symptoms included impaired vision, headaches, and depression in the months following a minor whiplash event. The doctors at the student clinic in the School of Optometry at Indiana University suggested that I have an MRI. Basically, they wanted to make sure I didn't have a brain tumor.
I did not have a brain tumor and any inflammation of the optic nerve that might have been present had resolved by the time I had the MRI. Eventually my vision problems and headache went back to normal, leaving the previous symptoms still unexplained.
In 1995, I tripped on the way to a concert performance with the Evansville Philharmonic. I don't know what I tripped on, but I trashed my French horn, sprained my wrists, and broke my left arm just above the elbow (hairline fracture). After this event, I developed an ache in my left arm and wrist that I simply became accustomed to over the years.
In 2000, optic neuritis returned and stole vision from my right eye for two months. After another trip through the MRI machine and a round of high-dose corticosteroids, I still had no diagnosis (For the complete story, read "Hey!! Turn up the lights and pass me some color!")
For the next five years, I had several random and vague complaints which centered on my hands, which I wrote about in "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Not?" Being seronegative (for RA factor) certainly delayed my RA diagnosis, but likely reminding the doctor that "I had optic neuritis in 2000 and my mother has lupus" probably didn't help either. During these years, I also experienced fatigue, weakness, and walking problems. In the end, however, I still didn't have a diagnosis of either RA or MS.