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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."

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.

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How does RA affect your life?