It’s Rheumatoid Arthritis…Not Osteoarthritis

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This topic was actually the reason I started this blog in the first place. It’s hard enough dealing with the effects of having rheumatoid arthritis without having every schmoe with arthritis in the toe or knee comparing their situation to yours. Osteoarthritis is caused by both age and wear and tear on the joints. I’ll get technical: water content of cartilage increases while protein composition of cartilage degenerates.

Of course there are other reasons a person can get osteoarthritis, most common being a previous injury to the joint. Osteoarthritis is painful. I know this because I had it in my big toe and had surgery last year. My toe hurt quite a bit, but that isn’t rheumatoid arthritis. Not even close!

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease. It is classified as an autoimmune disease meaning the body attacks its own healthy cells. There is no specific cause for rheumatoid arthritis. You didn’t play basketball too much in your younger days, heck RA can hit in your teens. There is also a childhood form of RA called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

I often get asked the question, “well how did you get that?” Don’t panic people! You can’t catch it from me. I don’t know how I got RA, and I can’t even pinpoint when I got it. My journey started when I woke up and couldn’t move one day. We had been to Disney World the week before and walked from morning until night for a week. My legs were more than tired and sore. At first I thought, that’s what it was, but instead of getting better, it got worse and worse.

My initial diagnosis was Lyme disease, though my first rheumatologist feels I never had Lyme and that was my first big arthritis flare. Looking back now I do remember my hands bothering on and off for a long time. I’m a woman…we take aches and pains in stride. If it didn’t stop me in my tracks, I kept moving. My first RA flare stopped me in my tracks. A friend brought me to the doctor and I remember not being able to make it up the stairs when I got home. I sat on a stair and cried because I seriously couldn’t move. It felt like I pulled every muscle in my lower body.

I’m a big supporter of changing the name of RA to rheumatoid disease. That’s what it is…an autoimmune disease. When people hear arthritis they more often than not don’t hear beyond that. They think a pain in a joint caused by overuse or injury. My pain is not in one spot. I have the usual pain areas, but there are days that my whole body hurts. And it’s more than just pain. I feel like I’m getting the flu with an arthritis flare. I have a low grade fever, yet it feels like I’ve been hit by a truck.

Another big symptom is exhaustion. Did you know there is a huge difference between being tired and being exhausted? If you have an autoimmune disease you probably understand the difference. I’m not mocking those who don’t get it. I was probably one of them. Everyone gets tired and when you explain to someone that your exhausted, they can relate in their own way. It wasn’t until I had my first flare that I understood the exhaustion that came along with an autoimmune disease.

During a flare, I could sleep from 8AM until 3PM when my kids get home from school…and I have on several occasions. The exhaustion from an autoimmune disease is like sleepwalking through your routine. I have no idea if I packed snacks for the kids, if they put their homework in their backpacks, or if they had gloves on when they went outside to wait for the bus. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that the exhaustion is present through everything and sleep doesn’t help that much.

There is no cure for RA right now. When a friend said to me, “oh, you have the really bad kind of arthritis.” Yep! I got lucky and got the worst kind. Yes, you see commercials non-stop for drugs to treat RA and fibromyalgia, but what you might not understand is how frightening it is to be in the position to need one of those drugs. If you take two minutes to listen to the commercial, you’ll hear a long laundry list of possible side effects. These side effects can be just as bad as the RA for some of us.

Please don’t suggest we try Humira or Remicade because you saw a commercial and it helped the guy who played golf. These drugs are serious and frightening. People with autoimmune disease have to weigh the pros and cons of the medicines they take. Even common anti-inflammatory medicines can cause serious problems over time. I’m bring this up because more and more people are suggesting I try these types of drugs.

First let me say, I know plenty of people in person and online who use them and have had tremendous benefits in reducing pain. Each of those people is fighting their own battle. No two battles are exactly alike. If you have a friend or loved one with RA, just listen. Don’t make suggestions of which you know nothing about. We will make those decisions with our doctors. We will do plenty of research on medicines, side effects, and we will talk to people who have tried them.

The best way to help someone with RA and any autoimmune disease is to keep your suggestions to yourself. We’ve probably heard the well-meaning intentions dozens if not hundreds of times. Listen to us when we talk. Make an effort to understand, and offer to help. We may not take you up on it, but it means the world to know the offer is there.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Patricia Macemore
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 05:32:19

    I understand what you said. When you have Rheumatoid Arthritis the only hear is arthritist and start talking about theirs. One of these day when someone starts telling about theirs I’m going to offer to trade places for a week during a flare. I bet they don’t make that mistake again.

    Reply

  2. Jeanette curry
    Feb 10, 2014 @ 10:54:55

    This is so very true ive had reactive arthritis since December 2013
    After a sore throat virus still have no idea if ir when i might be free of this exhaustion and pain its so depressing and 30 tablets a day commide walking sticks or my wheelchair breaks my heart as in only 57 and when u dont know if there is going too be an end ir not is very disheartening !!!!

    Reply

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