Ten Things I Wish Everyone Knew About RA
Rheumatoid arthritis is a complicated condition that the vast majority of people are either unaware of or misinformed about. While it’s impossible for anyone to truly understand what it’s like to live with a disease unless they have it, there are some facts about RA that I wish more people knew about.
- It’s not your grandmother’s arthritis. While most people think of elderly people when they hear the word “arthritis,” that is usually referring to osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an entirely different condition.
- Young people can get Rheumatoid Arthritis. People of all ages can get RA. In fact, some children as young as two years old are diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, and the majority of people with the disease are women between the ages of 30 and 60. I was diagnosed when I was 22.
- RA is an autoimmune disease. RA is caused by the very system that is supposed to protect the body. With this disease, the immune system becomes confused and begins attacking joints and soft tissue, rather than germs and viruses.
- RA can affect many parts of the body. RA affects multiple parts of the body. Not only does it impact joints, but RA can also cause symptoms in muscles, tendons, skin, and organs such as the eyes, lungs, and heart.
- It’s not your sports-related arthritis. I often have people tell me that they, too, have arthritis due to football-related knee injuries or tennis elbow. Rheumatoid arthritis is very different than the osteoarthritis that can be caused by sports injuries. RA is not localized to one part of the body, and it can involve debilitating fatigue on top of pain and inflammation in multiple sites.
- There are no quick fixes. You know that expression that goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”? That’s very true for RA. While the internet is full of ideas for curing RA, there has not been a diet, supplement, herbal remedy, or alternative therapy that gets rid of RA symptoms for everyone with the disease.
- There is not a cure. Just as there are no alternative cures for RA, there is not a pharmaceutical cure for RA either. There are many treatment options available, and some people with RA are able to control their symptoms or even go into remission with ongoing use of these drugs. However, others do not respond as well to the medications or cannot tolerate the side effects. Regardless of the treatment used, there is always the threat of RA symptoms flaring up unexpectedly.
- RA is a degenerative disease and can even be fatal. Since RA is an autoimmune condition, the drugs used to treat it often suppress the immune system. That can be a concern for those of us with RA, as well as for our loved ones who care about us. However, many of us are willing to take that risk, as RA is a disease that can cause permanent damage by eroding joints over time, and can even be fatal in cases that impact the heart or lungs. I do not make the decision to take these drugs lightly, and when people encourage me to go off treatment, I feel like they don’t understand the health risks that I’m facing as a person with RA.
- RA is an invisible disability. I may look healthy from the outside, in spite of dealing with pain and fatigue on the inside. While RA can cause noticeable deformities, in most cases it is hard to determine whether someone has the disease just by looking at them.
- There are good days and bad days. RA is erratic and unpredictable. Flare-ups of symptoms can happen unexpectedly. I may feel fine one minute, but have a sudden jolt of pain a moment later or have widespread fatigue and swelling the following day. This sometimes means I have to cancel plans at the last minute, even though I was looking forward to them.
This list doesn’t include everything there is to know about RA, but these are the aspects of living with the disease that seem to be most frequently misunderstood. If you know someone who has rheumatoid arthritis, learning more about the disease can go a long way in supporting your friend or loved one.
Has having RA put a hold on your ambitions?