As the name implies, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD) is a medical condition which displays a combination of symptoms, each of which can exist independently as a separate disease. It is an autoimmune disease and includes manifestations of Reynaud's phenomenon (discoloration of fingertips and toes in extreme temperatures), arthritis, esophageal dysfunction, myositis (inflammation of muscles), pulmonary hypertension, sclerodactyly (swollen and hardened fingers and toes), skin rash, reduced white blood cell counts, pleuritis (inflamed coverings of lungs), pericarditis (inflamed coverings of heart), along with high levels of ribonucleioprotein antibodies. Women are ten times more affected by this condition than men.
Autoimmune diseases are those clinical conditions in which the immune system of the body – which is supposed to protect the body from infections and diseases – becomes dysfunctional and starts targeting body organs and tissues, resulting in long term inflammation and damage. Involvement of the skin and the underlying tissues can result in rash, discoloration, ulceration and pain. Such symptoms can be distressing and affect quality of life; however, involvement of the important internal organs like the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys can result in serious disease which may adversely affect morbidity and mortality in the long run.
The modern, conservative treatment of MCTD is to suppress the dysfunctional immune system using steroids or immunosuppressant drugs; while this brings about an early relief from symptoms, most patients tend to relapse in the long run. The Ayurvedic treatment protocol for the management of MCTD consists of treating symptoms, treating the damaged tissues and organs, normalizing metabolism, soothing a hyper-reactive immune system, and treating all possible causes of the disease. Causes include chronic allergies, chronic inflammation, chronic infections, nutritional deficiencies, degeneration, and toxic build up in the body.
Detoxification, rejuvenation treatment of tissues and organs, immune modulation and symptomatic treatment need to be done separately or concurrently. Considering the serious and chronic nature of this condition, most of the time, all these treatments have to be given simultaneously. The treating physician needs to do a fine balancing act while prioritizing different treatments so as to achieve short term goals while not straying away from long term treatment aims. Most of the time, patients tend to complain persistently of joint pains and skin rashes, while the physician has to concentrate on dysfunctional internal organs. Treating and protecting important internal organs like the heart, lungs and kidneys, and bringing about successful immune modulation, need to be accorded top priority in the long run.
The response to immune modulation treatment is significant and consistent when all possible causes of the condition have been addressed and chronic inflammation treated adequately. At this stage of treatment, the normalization of tissue metabolism takes precedence so as to prevent a relapse of the condition. When it becomes apparent that the immune system is gradually functioning at optimal levels, the medicines can be tapered off gradually. Depending upon the severity of the condition and the treatment response of the patient, treatment time may range anywhere from six to twenty-four months. Educating the patient about a healthy diet and lifestyle becomes important at this stage so as to enjoy optimal health and avoid a relapse of the condition.
Ayurvedic herbal treatment can thus be successfully utilized to comprehensively manage and treat MCTD. It is important to note that patients who are already on steroids or immune suppressant drugs need to continue to remain under the regular treatment and supervision of their local physicians and rheumatologists, so that important treatment decisions can be taken in consultation with these physicians. Concurrent treatment with modern medicines and Ayurvedic herbal medicines can be safely given on a long term basis; however, adequate monitoring and testing is essential.