We asked people with the disease to speak out. Here’s what they had to say.
No. 1. “Just because I look fine doesn’t mean I am.”
“Even though I may look healthy and happy on the surface, [my RA means] I suffer with daily, often severe pain,” says Meredith Hutter Chamorro, 45, of Pennsylvania.
That’s because people with RA are always dealing with joint issues. Sometimes they get flare-ups, too. That’s when their symptoms get worse, with the disease causing painful, swollen joints and extreme fatigue.
Chamorro works with women who have autoimmune diseases like RA as a health coach and yoga therapist. Her clients say they’ve known people who don't believe they're in pain, she says.
“Some have gotten dirty looks, or worse, when they park in a handicapped spot or ask for assistance,” she says.
What the doubters don't realize is that rheumatoid arthritis flares can make it painful or impossible to do everyday tasks, like shopping or walking across a parking lot.
RA leads to joint damage, too. That can cause disability, and some people end up needing serious medical treatments like joint replacement surgery. It can hurt other parts of the body, too, like the eyes, heart, and lungs.
“Sometimes others just don’t understand what someone with RA is going through, and don’t offer support or empathy when they should,” says Rochelle Rosian, MD, a rheumatologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
If you have a friend or relative who has RA, it’s okay to talk with them about it. Ask how you can help them when they're feeling bad, and how you can tell when they could use help.
2. “It’s not ‘just’ arthritis.”
"Too often, people hear ‘arthritis’ and think minor aches and pains," says Dina Neils, 30, a CreakyJoints.com blogger living in California. Neils was diagnosed with RA 18 years ago.