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You may be the one who has rheumatoid arthritis, but it's going to touch a lot of other people in your life -- your spouse, your kids, and your close friends. It could affect your boss and co-workers, too.

Talking to people about your RA is important, but it can be frustrating. "Most people don't have a clue what RA is," says Patience White, MD, a rheumatologist and vice president for public health at the Arthritis Foundation.

So how can you get people to understand that RA is more than an achy joint -- and to give you the kind of help you need? Learn some new ways to talk about RA.

Talking to Your Family and Friends

  • Do some research. Before you start talking to people, read up on RA. Learn as much as you can, says Lenore Frost, PhD, clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. Your family and friends will have questions. Having answers will help them understand RA better.
  • Explain what RA is like. Giving people the basics on RA is just the first part. More important, explain what it's like for you. You may look the same as always, so people may have no idea what you're going through. Be specific. Describe what morning stiffness feels like. Talk about daily fatigue. Really try to get across how it affects you -- what it feels like when you do certain tasks or what is really hard to do. 
  • Ask for help -- and be specific. "Most people are willing to help," says Jane McCabe, MS, an occupational therapist in Laguna Hills, Calif. "But they need guidance from you to know what they can do." If someone offers help, take her up on it.  Then ask for what you need. Someone to shop for groceries? A few hours of child care a week?
  • Talk to your kids. Trying to shield your kids from your RA doesn't really work. They're going to notice. So tell them that you may be tired and sore, but that you're still there for them. Make sure they know that you're getting good treatment.
  • Discuss how things might change. You may not be able to do as much as you once did. The house may be messier. You may not be able to cook every night. Your RA might subside and then flare up. Make sure people close to you know what to expect, Frost says. Once they do, they can adapt.

If your family and friends don't realize what RA is like for you, they may have comments and complaints that frustrate you. This can be stressful. "The sooner you can start that open communication, the better," White says.

  • Get support from your doctor. If your spouse or another close family member has trouble grasping what you're going through, bring the person along to a doctor's visit. Urge him to ask the doctor questions.

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