How to talk about RA
When most people hear the word “arthritis,” they think of achy joints and old age. Even though that is true for the most common condition, osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is very different.
RA is a serious autoimmune disease that attacks the lining of the joints and other body parts.
If you know someone with RA, you may try to sympathize or offer advice. But be aware that some sentiments may do more harm than good.
Here are 15 things you should drop from the conversation.
Those drugs are too dangerous .
Yes, many of the immunosuppressive drugs prescribed to RA patients come with serious side
effects, including increased risk of infections, liver and kidney damage, and birth defects.
“The drugs are serious drugs,” says Eric L. Matteson, MD, MPH, professor of rheumatology at the
Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “But the disease is a serious disease.”
Left untreated, the immune system will attack and destroy the joints, and damage other organs as
well. RA can considerably lower a patient’s life expectancy if he or she skimps on or skips treatment.
My grandmother has it
It’s more likely that your grandmother has osteoarthritis, which affects 50% of people over 65. OA is caused by years of wear and tear on the joints, rather than by the body attacking itself.
“That’s a totally different disease,” says Sara Nash, a 32-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis in Baltimore, Md. “Having someone talk about their relatives with OA doesn’t make you feel any better.”
In fact, the average age of onset for RA is between 30 and 50, but it can be diagnosed in the teens, 20s, 30s, or at any age, and has been seen in children as young as a year and a half.
You need to exercise more
Exercise is an important part of managing any type of arthritis. Still, when RA flares up, exercise can
be difficult and painful, if not impossible, and may even lead to more joint damage.
“If someone can’t make it down the street, then telling them to exercise is like a big middle finger in
their face,” says Nash. Once the flare is controlled, simple workouts such as walking are helpful not
only for the joints but also to strengthen bones. And even though exercise can help manage the
disease, it can never cure it.