The battle against arthritis means learning to live with it, since there’s still
no cure. But a number of treatments and techniques are helping many sufferers
reclaim their quality of life.
The alarm rings, and you struggle to come alive although your body cries
out for sleep. Your joints ache, your muscles are sore, and you feel unable to
move your heavy limbs.
Once you have struggled awake, the ordinary tasks of bathing and dressing are
a challenge; swollen joints make buttons and buckles difficult, stiff shoulders
won’t cooperate with pullover shirts, and shoelaces are nearly impossible.
Were you hit by a truck? Did you fall off a mountain? No, it’s just
the beginning of another day of living with arthritis.
Arthritis and numerous related diseases and conditions, including ankylosing
spondylitis, fibromyalgia, lupus, polymyalgia, and others, affect thousands
of Kentuckians. Ranging from mild stiffness to constant pain and crippling that
can limit activity or confine people to wheelchairs, these conditions are “not
for sissies,” as one sufferer describes it.
Effects of Arthritis and Related Diseases
In addition to its physical symptoms, arthritis is often-particularly
as its life-altering effects worsen-accompanied by strong emotions that, unchecked,
can cycle downward into clinical depression.
Many of the drugs prescribed for arthritis may compromise the immune
system, leading to illness and loss of energy and appetite, or contribute to
osteoporosis, thin bones that are prone to fracture.
Difficulty in obtaining a diagnosis, as in the seemingly unrelated symptoms
of fibromyalgia and lupus, or perceived (or real) lack of sympathy from doctors
or family, causes many people to question their sanity or worth, or to blame
themselves for their suffering.
Like any other bereavement, the loss of one’s health and the prospect
of the loss of independence create feelings of hopelessness and grief, and the
same steps of mourning that accompany a death must be followed if the person
is going to learn to live effectively with an arthritic condition.
Living with Arthritis
It is not only possible to live with arthritis, but if you have to have
it, this is the best time. Medical research offers new relief and a great deal
of hope. While there is no cure for arthritis on the horizon, there are new
treatments that diminish pain and many symptoms, and many assistive devices
that can aid you in performing tasks that have become difficult or impossible.
Planning your work, taking frequent short breaks to stretch, devising
techniques that avoid use of your most painful joints, and wearing braces or
supports when you must do repetitive movements, all these can ease your daily
life. You can also benefit from modifications to your home, such as relocating
most-used objects to convenient locations, and replacing heavy pans, for instance,
with lightweight ones.
The most important thing people who have arthritis can do is participate
in their own treatment. If you understand what is happening in your body and
can learn to predict its reactions, you can alleviate the fear and despondency
that are caused by feelings of helplessness.
Seven Positive Steps
What can you do if you have (or suspect you have) an arthritic condition?
A Accept it. Trying to “fight it” on your own may postpone help
that will be of benefit, and the added stress of conflict and anger will worsen
B See a rheumatologist, one who specializes in the treatment
of arthritis and related conditions. Your family doctor may not have the newest
information or the best methods of treatment. Keep on trying until you find
a doctor whose personality meshes with your own-this will be a long relationship.
C Educate yourself. There is a world of information on the Internet
a good place to start), and the Arthritis Foundation, (800) 933-0032, has a
monthly magazine and other useful publications. They may have a nearby chapter
that offers classes and support.
D Keep active! Some light exercise every day will keep those
joints moving. Inactivity leads to weight gain, which worsens symptoms, leading
to a downward spiral you want to avoid.
E Get support. Talking to others who have the same problems will
ease your sense of isolation and may give you some new ideas about how to cope.
F Avoid unsympathetic people! Your life has changed, and whether
they like it or not, those around you have to adapt. Insist they learn more
about your problem(s) and help with tasks you find difficult. They may be in
denial, and need to understand your situation so they can grieve, too. Children,
especially, are frightened when an “invincible” parent is no longer able to
do the things they expect, but a simple explanation may help them understand.
Above all, don’t listen to negative talk.
G Stay happy. Choose books, movies, and activities that are cheerful
and upbeat; arthritis can be depressing enough without any help. Remember, every
minute you laugh is a minute free from pain.
by Mildred Renfro Wade
Most of the information described in this article is available from:
2908 Brownsboro Road, Suite 100
Louisville, KY 40206-3506
(800) 633-5335 or (502) 585-1866
National Arthritis Foundation Web site: www.arthritis.org.
Note: There may be a charge for some of the materials.
Recommended Reading from the Arthritis Foundation
250 Tips for Making Life with Arthritis Easier, book
Arthritis Today, magazine
The Arthritis Foundation’s Guide To Alternative Therapies, book
Brochures pertaining to various forms of arthritis
Drugs for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Through the years a variety of over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin,
have been used to combat different forms of arthritis. Today doctors are prescribing
A special report, “The New Drugs,” re-printed from Arthritis Today, is available
from the Arthritis Foundation, Kentucky Chapter.
The report lists the following new drugs: celecoxib (brand name Celebrex),
etanercept (brand name Synvisc), infiximab (brand name Remicade, formerly Avakine),
leflunomide (brand name Arava), rofecoxib (brand name Vioxx). Ask your doctor
if any of these might benefit you.
Many cities and towns have support groups for people who have arthritis.
They meet regularly, usually once each week, and share openly with others in
the group the problems they are having with arthritis, and discuss the problems
they have overcome and any helpful information about arthritis they may be able
to provide. Call the Arthritis Foundation for a support group near you, or check
your local newspaper for support groups.
Rheumatoid arthritis damaged my feet several years ago. I bought larger
shoes, wider shoes, and sandals, yet nothing eased the pain in my feet. Someone
suggested that I see a local podiatrist about molded shoes. The podiatrist made
a cast of each foot, then sent the casts to a company that makes the shoes.
When the shoes were completed I went to the podiatrist to try them on. They
certainly weren’t “dress shoes.” But they felt better than any shoes I had ever
PACE is a six-to-eight-week course in exercise, which people can continue
at home after completing the course. A half-hour PACE videotape is available.
Contact the Arthritis Foundation. Speakers Bureau
The Arthritis Foundation’s speakers bureau provides local speakers to
talk about arthritis to civic groups and at other gatherings. If you are interested,
contact the Arthritis Foundation.
Pathways to Better Living
Pathways to Better Living with Arthritis and Relaxed Conditions is a
five-part exercise video that includes breathing techniques, stretches, strengthening
and aerobic exercises, and relaxation techniques.
Physician-Recommended Treatment Options
Check with your rheumatologist or the Arthritis Foundation first before
beginning any new treatment program.
- Medicines (prescription and over-the-counter) can help reduce pain and swelling.
- Exercise lessens pain, increases movement, reduces fatigue, and helps you
look and feel better.
- Rest and relaxation: switching periods of activity with periods of rest
- Use of heat or cold over joints or muscles may give you short-term relief
from pain and stiffness and helps prepare you for exercise.
New Medical Treatments for Arthritis
by Tammy Gay, Specialist with the Office of Public Relations
University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center
Arthritis patients now have new drug treatment options.
Two drugs, Vioxx and Celebrex, have been shown to stop inflammation and pain
without gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers that sometimes result from use
of other commonly used drugs to treat arthritis, says Robert W. Lightfoot, M.D.,
chief of the division of allergy and immunology, University of Kentucky College
“These new drugs are ideal for elderly people who are more susceptible
to gastrointestinal problems,” Lightfoot says.
About 65 to 75 percent of patients respond to the commonly used medications
for rheumatoid arthritis, Lightfoot says. But for other patients, three other
drugs now are available. Arava is a pill that can be taken once a day. Two other
drugs, Remicade and Enbrel, contain molecules that act like antibodies and remove
a substance thought to cause arthritis from the bloodstream. Remicade is an
intravenous drug that is injected monthly, and Enbrel is a drug that patients
inject twice a week.
Ask your physician about possible side effects from taking these drugs.