Rheumatoid arthritis most often strikes between ages 30 and 40, when most
people have a lot of living to do. Daily life and future plans suddenly have to
include a chronic illness that's as unwelcome as it is unpredictable.
"Being diagnosed with RA is a life-changing experience," says Scott
Zashin, MD, a practicing rheumatologist and spokesman for the American College
of Rheumatology. "It reshuffles the cards people thought they were
When rheumatoid arthritis flares up, it makes joints feel stiff and achy. That discomfort may go away at times, but there may still be permanent damage. Eventually rheumatoid arthritis can harm joints so they don't work as well even when the disease itself is not active. How does joint damage occur, and how can it be prevented?
Periods of active inflammation are called high disease activity. When joints are inflamed, white blood cells enter the joint space.
Inside the joint, these white blood cells...
Adapting family life, work, and relationships to the realities of pain and
fatigue is a daily fact of life with RA. Although effective treatments are
available, there's no cure. To those affected, rheumatoid arthritis becomes the
adversary of a lifetime, simultaneously respected and defied.
But although rheumatoid arthritis never goes away, says Zashin, "with
effective treatment, many patients with RA can get their lives back."
Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Invisible Life Partner
Teresa Shaffer of West Virginia was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in
her 30s. The impact of RA on her life was impossible to imagine at the
"Did I know what I was in for? Yes and no," Shaffer tells WebMD.
"You can read about pain and stiffness, but when you start living with the
symptoms, it kind of slaps you in the face."
During 21 years of life with rheumatoid arthritis, including marriage,
raising three children to adulthood, and returning to the workplace as an
advocate for the American Pain Foundation, Shaffer acknowledges RA has imposed
But in Shaffer's view, "If you give up on living life and fighting the
pain, you've let the RA win, and then it will own you completely."
What are the keys to the good life, despite RA? Experts agree: good medical
care by a rheumatologist is essential. People with rheumatoid arthritis also
say self-care, realism, and resilience can make the difference between living
well with RA and simply coping.
Love and Marriage With Rheumatoid Arthritis
In sickness and in health: old vows take on new reality for couples affected
by RA. Rheumatoid arthritis creates unavoidable stress in any relationship,
experts tell WebMD.
"There will be challenges in the relationship because of pain," says
Yvette Colon, PhD, spokeswoman for the American Pain Foundation. "People
with RA, or any chronic pain condition, can feel self-conscious or damaged.
They might resist emotional intimacy with their partner," adds Colon,
especially during disease flares.
That loss of closeness can take a toll. More than a third of people with RA
feel the condition strains their intimate relationships, surveys show.
Missing out on social activities can mean losing quality time with your
partner. Feeling like "the sick one" can build a dynamic of dependence
or imbalance in the relationship.
Keeping a Relationship Strong Despite RA
Communication is key to coping with RA's impact in a relationship, says
Colon. "Talking to and listening to a partner express needs and concerns
can be scary, but it's necessary to help ease the burden of RA on the
relationship," Colon tells WebMD.
The needs of the partner without RA must be acknowledged, as well.
"Seeing one's partner in pain is emotionally painful," says Colon. Men
may experience even more stress, from their desire to fix the problem.