What People with Rheumatoid Arthritis Wished You Knew
Lene Andersen | April 4, 2017
Living with RA can be frustrating
Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be extremely frustrating. You have to cope not only with the condition causing pain and fatigue, but also with a lack of understanding from other people. We asked the RA community what they most wanted others to know about the chronic illness.
What RA feels like
“Like the worst flu you’ve had. Every day [and] for the rest of your life.” — @notoriousmoney
“It drains you, robs you of your energy, makes you feel heavy, slow, weak.” — Barbara
RA is an autoimmune disease that affects your entire body, causing fevers, pain, extreme fatigue, and feeling ill.
Not a disease of the elderly
“Age does not make a difference." — Joy
RA usually affects people between the ages of 30-50. However, it can happen as early as your teens and into your 60s and beyond. There are 1.3 million people in the U.S. who have RA, with women having the condition three times more often than men.
Not just about the joints
“It’s my lungs, my hearing, my brain, my heart… everything is affected.” — Margie
Despite the term “arthritis,” RA doesn’t just affect the joints. It’s a systemic disease, and its inflammation can cause damage to other systems in the body, including the skin and internal organs such as the heart and kidneys.
Life with RA is unpredictable
“How unpredictable this disease is, feeling fine one day and struggling the next.” — Deb
It’s hard to predict how RA will act. It can be quiet for a while, only to flare up with an increase in symptoms for seemingly no reason. Some people find that their flares can be related to factors such as weather, activity, and certain foods.
We don't make it up
“That it is real and not ‘all in my head’" — Melissa
Others may not be able to see the pain and fatigue that people with RA feel. It’s important to realize that an invisible illness is not something the person can control with the power of their mind. The disease is in control. It’s important to trust what the person tells you.
Plans will be cancelled
“When I tell you ‘I can’t do this or that today’ — please just believe me. Don’t ask, don’t push — just accept.” — Kari
Many people with RA are hesitant to make plans, because the unpredictability of the disease so often means cancelling. Having a Plan B can help. For instance, if going to the movies won’t work out, watching a DVD at home might.
A cure is not simple
“That we HAVE tried just about every ‘remedy’ you’re suggesting.” — Paulicia
RA is a complex condition about which much is unknown. Nothing about it — the treatment or living with it — is simple. Suggestions that curing yourself is as easy as eating X or taking Y goes against scientific evidence and can be hurtful to the person living with RA.
RA changes you
“How it takes away who you were [and] changes you in to someone you don’t want to be.” — Barbara
Living with RA means living with the loss of the healthy person you were, and becoming someone new. This can lead to depression and sadness. Support and understanding from family and friends can help in finding acceptance of the new you.
We are all different
“That everyone’s pain is different.” — Neen
RA pain ranges from mild to severe. Some are in remission, others have high inflammation or a disability. Some people with RA can be very active, even athletic, whereas others need to use canes or wheelchairs. The disease affects everyone differently.
You learn to cope
“Just because I’m smiling doesn’t mean I’m not in pain.” — Jennifer
People adapt and adjust to living with RA, even to high levels of pain. They find ways of connecting to life again, to smiling, working, participating in family activities and being active members of the community. Focusing on life often means not showing how much RA affects them.