RA Across the World: Life and Treatment in Germany

Patient Expert
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When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I started to wonder about RA outside of the United States. Were treatments the same in other countries?  Were they affordable, or like in America, did it depend on your health insurance? Was the percentage of population with RA proportional? Were there stigmas in other countries?

I found some information about RA in eight major countries: the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Brazil, Spain, and Japan. Recent studies indicate that in the decade between 2015-2025, RA will have increased in those countries from roughly 6.1 million cases to more than 6.9 million cases.

Once I discovered RA was on the rise worldwide, I decided to reach out to a family friend in Germany to find out what life with RA was like halfway across the world. Ulrike Hagenkort was an artist in her early adulthood, until she was diagnosed with RA. Ulrike was kind enough to answer some of my questions via email about RA in Germany.

Ulrike Hagenkort, an artist living in Germany with rheumatoid arthritis.
Ulrike Hagenkort, an artist living in Germany with rheumatoid arthritis.
Ulrike Hagenkort

What are some common treatments for RA in Germany (prescribed by doctors or alternative therapies)?

After my diagnosis, I was treated with traditional methods, though I can’t recall exactly which medications. The pain eventually started up again. I switched over to a naturopathic doctor. Her first goal was to remove any potential sources of inflammation in my body. For me this was determined to be my wisdom teeth and my tonsils. Afterward, it felt that my body had been cleansed. I was put on a course of bioresonance therapy. What ended up helping me fully recover was a diet. For a whole year I was tasked with avoiding meat, white flour, and sugar. After 10 years of bouts with rheumatism, it was gone. Today I eat sugar and some white flour again, but in moderation.

Is treatment for RA affordable in Germany? How does it work?

The traditional medical approaches were covered by the health insurance system in Germany, and still are. At the time, I had to cover the naturopathic therapies myself. Today, there are some other alternative approaches that are covered by the health insurance companies, either in part or in full. In Germany the patient is allowed to decide whether to pursue traditional or alternative treatments, however only when they are able to cover the cost of the alternative treatments. The naturopathic medicine helped me before, so I saved to be able to continue with it. Today, I can get supplementary health insurance for alternative treatments so that they are completely covered. This also covers me abroad, and costs 40 Euros per month more.

Are there supportive communities for RA in Germany? Can you describe the RA community, if there is one? Do you participate in it?

There is the very influential “Reumaliga,” which means RA League. When I was diagnosed years ago, I wasn’t aware of it. There weren’t computers at the university, let alone any internet access. I didn’t know anyone else who also had RA, and I didn’t want RA to take up so much space in my life. It was already enough that I needed to take a break and rest my hands after just 10 minutes of sketching. I could have maybe found some such groups in the scientific journals and periodicals in the library, but the idea never occurred to me.

Generally speaking, do you feel supported with your condition, from family and society? Do you feel like your condition is understood and accepted?

No, it was something I dealt with on my own for the longest time. In my family, one was simply not allowed to be sick for such a long time. Only later, after I was married, did my husband support me.

This was a very illuminating experience to me. I am thankful to Ulrike for being so open and specific. (I’m also thankful to my childhood friend Leo who translated all this into English from German for us.)  This only deepens my curiosity about RA across the world! Ulrike still continues to make art despite her limitations.

A piece of Ulrike’s art
A piece of Ulrike’s art
Ulrike Hagenkort

Her artwork can be found at www.hagenkort.com, and also followed on Instagram @ulrikehagenkort.