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
About 1.3 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This chronic inflammatory arthritis affects two to three times as many women as men.
Although RA is most commonly associated with joints of the hands and wrists, it can also affect larger joints, such as the hips, knees, and shoulders.
Symptoms of hip arthritis may occur later than those from RA affecting smaller joints.
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.