Before a diagnosis of RA, it’s common for friends to know you haven’t been feeling well. If they’re good friends, after you’ve been to the doctor they inquire about the results. For some inexplicable reason, when we say, “The doctor diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis,” listeners only hear four of those five words. “Rheumatoid” seems to be inaudible when spoken.
Fortunately, we don’t have to remain stuck with the frustration that occurs when people hear “arthritis” without comprehending “rheumatoid” and respond, “Oh, I have that in my neck/knee/little finger.” Usually, I don’t think my health is anyone’s business, but good friends are an exception. If I know someone well enough to tell them that I have RA, then I know them well enough to explain why RA is not “just arthritis.”
When people respond as if I’m discussing osteoarthritis, I’ve had very good luck smiling and saying, “Oh, you’re thinking of OA. There are nearly 100 different types of arthritis. I have RA.”
It’s quite simple to quickly explain that OA is what people have when a joint wears out due to overuse, but RA is completely different. RA occurs when the immune system goes postal and starts attacking multiple joints and organs, too.
I remember a few years ago my riding instructor shrugging off my stiffness, saying that we all feel stiff sometimes. I waited a day, then sent email to explain the situation:
“Three years ago I was diagnosed with a disease that means my immune system is overactive. It doesn’t distinguish between my body and foreign invaders. The immune system is supposed to attack germs so that we don’t get sick. My immune system does that, but it also attacks the synovial fluid surrounding my joints, the enthesis (where tendons attach), my skin, and pretty much anything else it feels like attacking without giving me any say in the matter…
While RA can cause OA, RA is not “just arthritis.” There is a huge difference, and I’ve had tremendous response when giving people a brief explanation of the distinction between the two.