6 Things People Without Arthritis May Not Understand

Experience Is Our Greatest Teacher

drbimages/E+/Getty Images

Experience teaches us some of the most valuable lessons in life. Without first-hand experience, you can expect to lack full understanding. For example, you can't completely understand the impact of living with a chronic disease, such as arthritis, unless you have the disease yourself. While you may try to understand or even think that you do, you won't truly feel what it's like unless you wear the shoes, as they say.

Here are 6 things that people who don't have arthritis typically fail to understand.

1 - Arthritis Makes a Person Feel Tired and Fatigued

Most of us lead busy lives. We have multiple roles and responsibilities. As you would expect, at the end of the day, we're tired. But, the tiredness and fatigue that is experienced by people with arthritis, especially inflammatory types of arthritis, goes beyond that. Fatigue associated with arthritis is an overwhelming depletion of energy that strikes at unexpected times and often after a night's sleep. The body feels completely spent, or as if flattened by a truck, and there seemingly isn't any amount of rest that will turn it around quickly. 

People without arthritis tend to think that tired simply means tired. They can take a nap when they get tired and feel better instantly. But, people with arthritis know that the level of fatigue that they experience affects their quality of life.

It is part of the disease process. It can be made worse by overactivity, but arthritis-associated fatigue is more complicated than that. Many patients find fatigue more difficult to deal with than pain. 

2 - Arthritis Is Not Simply "Minor Arthritis Pain"

One of the biggest misconceptions about arthritis is that it primarily involves minor aches and pains.

The misconception has been fueled by the portrayal of arthritis in television commercials and magazine advertisements for over-the-counter pain relievers. You may have seen the ads yourself, where a person in pain can dance or become more active after taking a couple of Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen). The images tend to minimize and trivialize arthritis pain. The goal of advertising, after all, is to sell over-the-counter drugs, not to educate the public about different types of arthritis and the importance of consulting with a doctor for early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. 

3 - There Are Different Types of Arthritis

Arthritis is not a single disease that affects only older people, as many people think. There are over 100 types of arthritis, with about a dozen considered more common. Some of the more severe types are classified as inflammatory arthritis (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis). Others are connective tissue diseases or mixed connective tissue diseases.

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (also referred to as degenerative arthritis).  Not only is arthritis not a single disease, anyone at any age can develop arthritis (e.g., juvenile arthritis). 

4 - You Feel Fine One Minute But Can Experience an Increase in Symptoms the Next

Arthritis pain, fatigue, and other symptoms can fluctuate. The intensity and frequency of pain can vary, and the variation is often unexpected and unpredictable. An increase or flare of symptoms can occur without warning and for no apparent reason -- even within the same day. It's the nature of arthritis. This aspect of arthritis is hard to adjust to for those who have the disease, and it is nearly incomprehensible for those without arthritis.

5 - Arthritis Affects a Person Emotionally as Well as Physically

There are consequences associated with chronic arthritis. For many people, the most obvious consequence involves physical limitations. Arthritis can make usual activities of daily living difficult -- but that too has its own consequence. When people can't do what they need to do, or can't fulfill what they consider to be their role and responsibility at work or home, their emotions are stirred up. They may become frustrated, angry, sad, or depressed. They may feel guilty and self-esteem may start to erode. The more arthritis affects "normal" life, the more intensely their emotions may be affected. Clearly, the impact of arthritis is complex and more than purely physical.  

6 - The Goal of Treatment Is to Manage Arthritis; There Is No Cure for Most Types

There is no cure for most types of arthritis. The types that cannot be cured are chronic, meaning, a person will have the disease for the rest of their life. The goal of treatment is to control pain, slow disease progression, and manage the disease so that the person with arthritis can have a good quality of life and as much normalcy as possible. Living well with arthritis is the ultimate goal until a cure can be found.

Continue Reading