In honor of Rheumatoid Awareness Day on Feb. 2, we asked our friend and RA blogger Leslie Rott to share how she responds to comments from people who don’t understand.
For many of us with rheumatoid arthritis, educating people happens throughout the year, not just during awareness days or months. This is because much of the general public is completely clueless about what RA actually is and how it is treated. What follows are some typical things that often well-meaning but otherwise clueless people think about RA and what the truth about them actually is.
My grandmother has arthritis.
You’re too young to have arthritis.
The truth: Yes, well, RA is not your grandmother’s arthritis. RA, unlike osteoarthritis, is not age-dependent. Anyone, at any time, can be diagnosed with RA.
It’s just a little arthritis, what’s the big deal?
The truth: RA isn’t just arthritis. It’s not just an ache or pain here or there that may only be isolated to one joint. RA is a systemic illness that impacts not just the joints, but the organs, as well. This means that severe fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell are also paramount to RA, in addition to joint pain and damage.
But you don’t look sick.
The truth: RA, like many other autoimmune diseases, is often an invisible illness. While some people do have visible damage and deformity of their joints, others do not. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Often those of us with RA mask our pain and tell people we are “fine,” even when we aren’t.
My friend cured her own arthritis. If you just try this diet or workout regimen, you will be cured, too.
The truth: If there was a single diet or exercise plan that worked to cure RA, we would all be doing it. While some people do find some relief from their symptoms via diet and exercise, many people do not and are reliant on available prescription medications to function. While remission is possible, there is currently no cure for RA.
Losing weight will cure your arthritis.
The truth: While managing one’s weight can take pressure off the joints, losing weight in and of itself will not get rid of RA. Losing weight can be difficult for RA patients to do because one of the first line treatments of RA is steroids, which are known to cause significant weight gain.
If you’re a woman, just get pregnant, and your RA will be cured.
The truth: While pregnancy can mitigate the effects of RA, not all pregnant women see improvement in their disease while pregnant. In fact, for some women, their disease gets worse. Some women have massive flares post-pregnancy. Additionally, those with RA should discuss pregnancy with their doctors as some medications used to treat RA are not safe during pregnancy. Some medications even have a washout period where the medication has to be out of your system for a certain amount of time before getting pregnant is even an option. So while pregnancy can sometimes improve RA symptoms, everyone is different, and it’s important to talk to your doctor about your specific situation.
Move to a hot, dry climate and you will be cured.
The truth: While many people with RA say that their disease activity is impacted by the weather, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that one climate is better than another for living with RA. I mean, we can’t all live in Southern California where it is 75 degrees and sunny all the time.
Taking Tylenol or Aleve will take away your pain.
The truth: Again, RA isn’t just your everyday garden variety of arthritis. Most over-the-counter pain medications do little to nothing to help relieve joint pain from RA.
Cracking your knuckles gave you arthritis.
The truth: That’s a total myth. Cracking your knuckles does not cause arthritis. And for that matter, there is nothing that a person with RA does to get RA. There is no single cause of RA.
You can’t die from arthritis.
The truth: Sadly, you can die from RA. Because RA is a systemic illness that impacts the organs, as well as the joints, those with RA are at a higher risk for premature death. There are many reasons for this, including heart disease, lung issues, and suppressed immune system which can cause infections like pneumonia or the flu to be fatal for someone with RA. While medications used to treat RA can suppress the immune system further, for most people, the benefits of medications outweigh the risks, as untreated RA can lead to irreversible joint damage.
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Leslie Rott was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus in 2008 at the age of 22. She fights hard and since her diagnosis, she has completed two Master’s degrees and a PhD! She blogs about her journey on her blog, Getting Closer To Myself. You can find Leslie on myRAteam here.