RA Stigma Is Related to Myths
There are several myths regarding RA that help lead to the stigma surrounding the disease.
Myth: Arthritis is just aches and pains.
When people hear the word arthritis, they often think simply of aches and pains. Usually, they don’t think about other issues RA can cause. They don’t know the realities of the disease and don’t understand the degree of pain and disability that can accompany RA.
Arthritis is a systemic illness that affects the body in a variety of ways, not just by causing aches and pains, but also by damaging the joints and causing other co-morbid conditions.
Myth: Arthritis is not a serious disease.
Along with the first myth that arthritis is just aches and pains, many people don’t realize that RA is a serious disease that can lead to disability and death. People with RA are often viewed as making too much out of their symptoms, that they claim their pain is more severe than it is or that they aren’t really disabled from RA.
Myth: “But you don’t look sick.”
While some people do have visible signs of RA, others do not and therefore people believe a person must be fine because they don’t look sick. This is something that many “invisible” illnesses have in common. Those with invisible illnesses tend to be stigmatized because people who aren’t sick expect those who are to look sick. And many people with RA don’t necessarily look sick. Also, people without RA often don’t know what to look for in terms of visible joint deformities.
Myth: Only old people get arthritis.
By far the greatest stigma surrounding RA is the fact that many people think of arthritis as a disease that only old people get. While osteoarthritis is age-related, RA has nothing to do with age and most commonly affects women between the ages of 15 and 45 years old.
Because of the association of RA with old age, many people don’t believe it’s possible for a young person to have RA. Or they think it is something that the person will “grow out of”.
The reality is that all of these myths lead to misunderstandings about the disease and create stigmas that negatively affect those of us who live with RA every day. This stigma can lead to difficulties in getting access to medical care and other resources and makes living with RA even more difficult. It isn’t just the physical pain that comes from the disease, but the emotional pain that comes from having a disease that is misunderstood by strangers, family members, friends and sometimes even medical professionals.
It leads those of us with the disease to question how we handle it and it involves a lot of advocacy work to diminish the misunderstandings.