Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a misunderstood disease. Most people think RA involves only the joints, particularly those of the hands, fingers and feet. Some associate it with Osteoarthritis (OA), the common, degenerative condition that will affect most people at some point in their lives. Others perceive it to be similar to OA, just a more advanced version. In addition, it is usually the belief that RA is treated with the same medications and therapies as those used to manage OA. In fact, it often is thought to be easily controlled with minor modifications. These are all misconceptions about RA.
The truth is Rheumatoid Arthritis is a systemic disease that affects joints, connective and soft tissues, muscles and sometime organs, while Osteoarthritis only affects the weight bearing joints. RA is not in any way an extension of OA; matter-in-fact, they do not even share the same reason for onset. OA is due to wear and tear, age or injury and causes degeneration of the cartilage surrounding the joint. RA is caused by a faulty immune system where the bodies own cells to attack one another, resulting in inflammation that damages the body systemically. First line treatment for OA is to manage the existing damage and consist of over-the-counter pain relievers. The typical first line treatment for RA is to manipulate cell interaction, which calls for mild chemotherapy. And while it is true that newer medications for RA have proven to bring higher remission rates in the recent years, how long a patient can stay in remission, or what justifies those levels of remission, are dependant on each individual patient response and the level of their disease.
So what is contributing to this gross misunderstanding? Look around you. It's everywhere. It's on our televisions, it's in our print materials and it's on our computer screens. The best way to stop it is to change what is publicized in the media.
There are commercials and advertisements for RA yet most people still do not understand what it is. Why is that? Perhaps it is how the message is being presented? Do the patients who appear in these commercials look any different than those who are featured in Osteoarthritis advertisements? The average age of onset in children is 7-9, but do they ever show children dealing with these diseases? Do we see the injections or infusions to differentiate the treatments from over-the-counter options? How quickly do they show the RA patient experiencing remission after using their products, and are those results typical?
On the flipside, there are also commercials and advertisements specifically for Osteoarthritis, yet they too skew the line of differentiating the two conditions. First of all, the word Osteoarthritis is rarely heard or seen in these ads; it is typically referred to as simply "arthritis". People know "arthritis" means joint pain and that it is a term synonymous with OA. So doesn't it make sense that if we continue to call the Autoimmune Arthritis diseases "arthritis" we will continue to feed in to the misunderstandings that it is no more than joint pain?
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a misunderstood disease. That can be changed by being proactive. Go to the websites of those companies and products creating advertisements for RA and let them know that they are contributing to the misunderstanding. Request they begin using younger models, including children, to show a visual difference in age onset. Suggest they show the injections or infusions and vocalize ALL of the symptoms. And don't forget those targeting OA patients. Ask for disclaimers to be added to all over-the-counter medications that states, "Not intended for the treatment of Autoimmune Arthritis diseases". And if you are still calling your RA (or Psoriatic Arthritis or Juvenile Arthritis) simply "arthritis", start differentiating it by categorizing it as Autoimmune Arthritis because it is not only joint pain.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a misunderstood disease. But it doesn't have to be.
-Tiffany Westrich is the co-creator of the International Autoimmune Arthritis Movement's Media Awareness Hotline. To learn more, please visit www.IAAMovement.org/Awareness_Hotline.html
Published On: January 19, 2012