The Other Half: Caring For the Rest of Your Body When You Have a Chronic Illness

Patient Expert

As a man, when you’re diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) your life can be thrown upside down. Not only must you acclimate to pain but you must learn to let go of many of the things you’ve been doing your whole life.

Suddenly, instead of being the handyman and playing catch with your grandchildren (or children), you’re in a corner watching things happen, or you’re in a doctor’s office talking about potential side effects of the drugs you’ve been prescribed.

The drudgery of the diagnosis, the treatment, and the sacrifices can take over. A consequence of this is that other parts of your life may take a backseat. Passions, relationships, and plans may all find themselves neglected. One aspect of life that also tends to be neglected in the face of rheumatoid arthritis is the overall health of the rest of your body.

When acclimating to the newness of this pain, it can be easy (and let’s be honest, flat out convenient) to ignore other symptoms we might be feeling. We might tell ourselves: I go to the doctor enough as it is! I’m already paying my body enough attention. One disease is enough to have to focus on.

We also might find ourselves experiencing pain or other symptoms and assume they are part of the RA. Symptom/diagnostic overshadowing and misdiagnosing are real possibilities when coping with RA. This happens when a pain or symptom you are experiencing is wrongly attributed to RA, when it is in fact a result of something else going on in your body unrelated to RA. Not only are we liable to do this, but sometimes our doctors are as well.

I think it’s important to be reminded that despite the frustrations of RA, and our general dread of doctors’ offices, we ought not forget about the rest of our bodies.

Here are some tips for making sure you are on top of your health as a whole, even while you deal with RA:

Get your regular bloodwork done

Every few months, RA patients are supposed have their blood drawn. This is a comprehensive way to track any changes in your body. Particularly, doctors want to see if the RA meds have had any alarming effects on your blood count and liver function. But if any other changes are taking place in the body outside of RA, your regular blood checks may be the first chance at spotting them.

Have regular check-ups

With all our rheumatologist appointments, blood draws, and X-rays, we might find ourselves thinking: Enough already! I sure feel this way sometimes. I also tell myself: “All I’m going to do is go in there, have my blood pressure taken, tell my doctor I feel the same as last time, and then be told I should get a flu shot and go home. What’s the point?” But regular check-ups can serve a much bigger purpose. They can be the starting point for addressing other developing symptoms, putting you on track to see a specialist who can give you the correct diagnosis and begin treatment.

Pay attention to your body, and be honest

We may experience symptoms that we want to ignore. We may dread the doctor’s office and the thought of being diagnosed with yet another affliction in addition to RA. But is it worth the chance of catching something too late? When we get RA, we are suddenly more in touch with our bodies than we’ve ever been. Let’s use that to our advantage, and listen to what our bodies tell us.

Here’s to being healthy, despite our RA!

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