Rheumatoid Arthritis: Debunking invisible illnesses (Part 1)

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Debunking invisible illnesses: Rheumatoid Arthritis (Part 1)


By: Natasha Archary


Rheumatoid arthritis

To anyone who has been diagnosed with a chronic condition and have been met with blank stares, I feel you. Unless it’s something more familiar and sounds serious, you will not receive the response you expect if it’s say Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).


People hear the word arthritis and immediately react, “What? But you’re so young, isn’t that like something old people get?”


There are many types of arthritis and unfortunately no, it’s not something that picks its prisoner based on age. Don’t confuse RA with Osteoarthritis (the something old people usually get).


Rheumatoid vs Osteoarthritis

RA is an auto-immune disorder that causes painful, inflammatory conditions throughout the body. Basically, it means your immune system is attacking healthy cells in your body instead of fighting something that is actually causing you harm.


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that is often the result of wear and tear of joint cartiliage over time. Osteoarthritis is a gradual condition that often affects people from the age of fourty five. RA is a lot more aggressive and can affect people from the ages of thirty to sixty, children can also be vulnerable to it.


Signs and symptoms

There are early warning signs to watch for with RA and it’s easy to confuse the symptoms with over exertion, a sprain, plain old fashioned fatigue or flu.


  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Morning stiffness
  • Joint pain
  • Decrease in range of motion
  • Dry mouth/ thirsty all the time
  • Dry eyes
  • Loss of appetite/ weight loss
  • Numbness or tingly sensation


Rheumatoid flare


Diagnosis and treatment

You will need to do a full blood count to test for RA or any other forms of arthritis before you’re correctly diagnosed. It falls into the same category as Lupus under chronic conditions and life insurances do cover the illness under the life-threatening illness banner. So yes, it is pretty serious but it’s manageable.


Once diagnosed, you will be referred to a rheumatologist and they don’t come cheap. You regular family doctor will not be able to manage your condition as efficiently as a specialist so welcome to the world of chronic pain and excessive medical bills.


After an assessment of how mild or severe your condition is, your “rheumy” will prescribe you a three or six month course of treatment. Regular anti-inflammatories will not be as effective and you will need something like Coxflam and a supplementary steroid like Prednisone to bring down swelling and improve mobility of joints.


As if that weren’t enough, your pill-popping doesn’t end there. No, to control your rheumatoid arthritis you, my friend, will need a low dose chemotherapy medication. Methotrexate may be what your rheumy refers to as “mild” but it’s a nasty little yellow tablet that has a number of side effects.


There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis but you can manage the condition and still live an active and healthy lifestyle.


What is it like living with RA?

Painful. You have these unexpected flares ups and days where you’ll feel like an un-oiled tin-man. Moving feels impossible and you will need to invest in some wrist, ankle and knee braces to stabilise the affected areas.


Of course, explaining away your spontaneous swelling or cast limb to colleagues and strangers is a nightmare all its own. Eventually, once you’ve come to terms with the condition mentally, you learn to think up humourous ways to satisfy their concern.


“Oh, this? I promise you the other guy looks a lot worse.”

“Self-defense class gone wrong.”

“I tripped over my partner during sex and fell wrist first off the sofa.”


If that doesn’t stop them from being inquisitive and annoying, nothing will.


It may seem like the end of the world when your doctor is breaking it down for you, but having RA today is not a death sentence. With the medical interventions we have today, it’s something that can be controlled to make you as comfortable as possible. You will get the odd flare up now and then…like that will stop you.

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