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How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Your Life

Tips on working and living with RA.
WebMD Feature

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 dealt."

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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 time.

"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 limitations.

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.

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