6 Things People With Rheumatoid Arthritis Wish You Knew

If you know someone living with RA, you might not realize how much the disease affects his or her day-to-day life. Here’s what to say and what not to say.

RA is an invisible illness that can affect any part of the body, including organs.

About 1.5 million Americans are living with RA, or rheumatoid arthritis, and most of them are women. On the outside, the ravages of RA may not be visible — you might think your friend doesn’t look sick. But this is a case in which looks are deceiving.

With RA, the body’s immune system covertly attacks the lining of joints, as if it were a foreign invader. This assault causes swelling, pain, and eventually joint damage — so much more than just arthritis.

Here’s what people with RA want others to know about their invisible illness.

1. It’s Not Like Your Achy KneeWhen someone tells you she’s living with RA, it’s not helpful to reply with, “Oh, I have a little arthritis in my knee too,” says Dana Symons, 29, a marketing manager from Grand Rapids, Mich.

“No doubt osteoarthritis can be very painful, but it’s not the same as rheumatoid arthritis, or rheumatoid disease — my preferred terminology — which can affect any part of the body, including organs, not just joints. It’s a progressive disease that tends to affect more areas more severely over time.” Her advice? “Take the time to learn and understand what rheumatoid disease really is.”

2. There Is No Cure. “Just because my symptoms are well-controlled doesn’t mean I’m cured,” says Symons, who has been living with RA for 10 years. “Even when I am doing well, the underlying disease is still there and may be causing unseen damage. There is no cure for rheumatoid disease, so for now all I can do is treat it aggressively and hope my body responds enough to slow down the progression of the disease and minimize symptoms.”

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