Have you been disabled by rheumatoid arthritis? If so, you are not alone. According to the Center for Disease Control , an estimated 1.5 million people had rheumatoid arthritis as of 2007, and 75 percent of those are women. This disease is a progressive one, and lasts a lifetime. It affects men, women and children, and currently there is no known cure.
Disabling Effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disabling disease. The American College of Rheumatology describes the disease as “a chronic (long-term) disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling and limited motion and function of many joints. While RA can affect any joint, the small joints in the hands and feet tend to be involved most often. Inflammation sometimes can affect organs as well, for instance, the eyes or lungs.”
The Mayo Clinic states that RA is an autoimmune disorder that “occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body's tissues. In addition to causing joint problems, rheumatoid arthritis can also affect your whole body with fevers and fatigue. Rheumatoid arthritis is much more common in women than in men and generally occurs between the ages of 40 and 60. Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and preventing joint damage."
Due to the effects of the disease, such as constant joint pain, fever and fatigue, individuals who have RA often apply for Social Security Disability benefits or other benefits for the disabled, according to the country in which they live. Since it is a progressive disease with no known cure, more often than not the benefits are awarded to those diagnosed with RA.
Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Everyone who has RA experiences it in a different way. For some, there is a sudden onset, while others may experience it more gradually. Those who experience it rather quickly may have difficulty adjusting to the problems associated with it. Aside from joint pain, some individuals develop Sjogren syndrome, which causes dryness of the eyes and mouth. Others may experience stiffness of the joints in the morning and when they have been sitting for a long period of time. Many individuals who have RA develop depression, which may cause other problems such as insomnia, weight gain and fatigue.
It is important to talk with a rheumatologist and primary care physician about depression or any new symptoms as soon as they occur. There are numerous treatment programs, and it may take a while to get the right combination of therapies to make living with rheumatoid arthritis easier.
Having RA doesn’t mean that you’ll have to give up things you love due to joint pain and other symptoms; it just means that sometimes you’ll have to find creative ways to get things done. Traveling, holding down a job and enjoying friends and family are all still possible. Take advantage of support and advice from physicians, support groups and counselors when needed, and include family and caregivers in the loop so they can pitch in when the need arises.
Getting Support for RA
Whether you are an individual with rheumatoid arthritis, or a caregiver of someone with the disease, getting the support you need is very important. Having the disease can sometimes feel like a roller coaster ride- one day you may feel fine, and the next day the pain can keep you in bed. Caregivers may be confused by the changing symptoms and the degree of pain their friend or family member is feeling. Learning about the disease, as well as the therapies and medications someone is taking to control the disease is important for everyone involved.
While some individuals may feel like keeping medical information to themselves, sharing the information with another person can help ease some of the stress associated with RA. It can be helpful to have someone to take you to doctor’s appointments and the tests that often follow, as well as write down information from physicians and specialists during discussions.
Support groups can be very helpful because they offer a supportive environment for individuals with the disease, as well as caregivers and family members. These groups offer a place to share information, hardships, as well as positive experiences. No one will force an individual to share information unless they want to, and attendance at meetings is not mandatory. Some people will come to a few meetings, and then only come back when they feel the need to. Other individuals gain strength from attending meetings regularly.
Counseling is another way to find support and learn coping strategies for handling the disease. Some individuals benefit from short-term counseling, while others may require long-term sessions. It is up to the counselor and the individual as to the length of the treatment. Caregivers may also use counseling to help them cope with the many changes associated with caring for a person with RA.
The following are some of the resources available to individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and their caregivers: