8 things people with rheumatoid arthritis want you to know

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a progressive and disabling autoimmune inflammatory disease that affects 35-70 million people worldwide.1,2 There’s more to RA than just developing stiff joints as you get older– read on to find out how the disease really affects those living with it and what they would like you to know.

1. “It’s not just my joints that are affected.”


RA is a disease that can affect many parts of the body, not only the joints.

For example, the chronic inflammation associated with RA can cause skin rashes, bone thinning and eye problems such as pain, redness or blurred vision.3 However, the right treatment can help to relieve all symptoms.

2. “It can take me a while to get going in the morning.”


The pain and stiffness that many people with RA experience can often be worse in the morning, or after a period of inactivity.

This stiffness can last for a few hours, meaning that people with RA often have to allow extra time to get ready for work, for example.4

3. “People can’t always see my symptoms so they think my disease is trivial.”


While invisible to friends and family, chronic fatigue and pain are symptoms of RA that can have a severe impact on individual’s work, relationships and mental health. As many as 40% of people with RA report experiencing symptoms of depression.5

Although they are common health issues, fatigue and depression are not well understood by many people. By recognising when people living with RA aren’t feeling their best, it can relieve some of the emotional burden of their disease.6      

4. “It’s not just my RA that makes me feel unwell.”


It has been shown that many people with RA don’t take their treatment as prescribed because of side effects including: 7,8

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Hair loss
  • Skin rashes

This can result in reduced disease control and increased pain or other symptoms.9,10 People living with RA should speak with their doctor about their options.

5. “RA affects people of all ages.”


Although RA is most likely to develop between the ages of 30 and 55,11 it can develop at any age, with some forms of arthritis affecting children under two years old.12

6. “Sometimes I might not feel like eating.”


People living with RA often experience flu-like symptoms, which can include a loss of appetite.

This can impact their social lives as they may feel unable to attend social or family events.13 Organising events that aren’t based around food can go a long way toward boosting their spirits.

7. “My RA has made it difficult to perform at work.”


Struggling to be productive or having to miss work because of painful flare-ups can be a real worry for people with RA.

In fact, a survey of 1,000 people with RA found that a third of them had given up work because of their disease and less than half had been offered support by their workplace.14

If you work with someone with RA, understanding that they can have good days and bad days can help to relieve the stress and pressure they sometimes feel at work.

8. “I can still lead a normal life.”


With earlier diagnosis and more effective, tailored treatments available, it is now possible for more people with RA to lead a more normal life.

This makes it especially important for people living with RA to have regular and open conversations with their doctor to discuss personal goals and their options.


  1. Symmons D, et al. ‘The global burden of rheumatoid arthritis in the year 2000.’ Available  at http://www.who.int/healthinfo/statistics/bod_rheumatoidarthritis.pdf. Last accessed September 2016.
  2. Gabriel SE and Michaud K. Epidemiological studies in incidence, prevalence, mortality, and comorbidity of the rheumatic diseases. Arthritis Res Ther. 2009;11:229.
  3. Arthritis Foundation. More than just joints: how rheumatoid arthritis affects the rest of your body. Available at: http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/articles/rhemuatoid-arthritis-affects-body.php. Last accessed September 2016.
  4. NHS Choices. Rheumatoid Arthritis – symptoms. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Rheumatoid-arthritis/Pages/Symptoms.aspx. Last accessed September 2016].
  5. Arthritis Foundation. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Depression. Available at: http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/comorbidities/depression-and-arthritis/depression-rheumatoid-arthritis.php. Last accessed September 2016.
  6. NRAS. Invisible disease: Rheumatoid Arthritis and Chronic Fatigue. Available at: http://www.nras.org.uk/data/files/Get%20Involved/RAAW/Invisible%20Disease%20-%20Rheumatoid%20Arthritis%20and%20Chronic%20Fatigue%20Survey.pdf. Last accessed September 2016].
  7. Engel-Nitz, N.M. et al. ‘Use of anti-tumor necrosis factor monotherapy and adherence with non-biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs in combination with anti-tumor necrosis factor therapy among rheumatoid arthritis patients in a real-world setting. [abstract].’ Arthritis Rheum. 2012;64 (Suppl 10):378.
  8. Dhir V, et al. ‘Methotrexate-related minor adverse effects in rheumatoid arthritis.’ J Clin Rheum. 2012;18(1):44-6.
  9. Contreras-Yáñez I, et al. ‘Inadequate therapy behavior is associated to disease flares in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who have achieved remission with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs.’ Am J Med Sci. 2010;340:282-90.
  10. Cannon GW, et al. ‘Merging Veterans Affairs rheumatoid arthritis registry and pharmacy data to assess methotrexate adherence and disease activity in clinical practice.’ Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2011; 63:1680-90.
  11. Amador-Patarroyo MJ, et al. ‘How does age at onset influence the outcome of autoimmune diseases?’ Autoimmune Diseases. 2012. doi: 10.1155/2012/251730.
  12. Medscape, Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1007276-overview#a3. Last accessed September 2016.
  13. Arthritis Foundation. Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms. Available at: http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms.php. Last accessed September 2016.
  14. Health and Safety at Work. Working with Arthritis. Available at: http://www.healthandsafetyatwork.com/content/working-arthritis. Last accessed September 2016.

Tags: Patients, Society