Certainly, learning about the disease will tame some of the fear. Separating myths and misconceptions from facts will bring some assurance. But still, it's difficult to predict how severe your arthritis will become or the many ways it may ultimately affect what you have planned for your life.
You are not alone in your fear. Most people feel very unsettled when diagnosed with arthritis. Here are 10 of the most common things that people fear about arthritis.
1 - Living With Pain
People find the idea of living with chronic pain overwhelming. Having pain, day in and day out, is unfathomable. It is natural and expected that newly-diagnosed arthritis patients would be afraid of how intrusive pain will be on their daily routines. The degree of intrusion depends on the severity of the disease, of course, as well as how well the person responds to treatment. Pain tolerance also varies from one person to another. You should focus on pain management techniques. Living with chronic pain, while difficult, is not a hopeless situation. Many people with chronic arthritis pain learn to live well with the condition.
2 - Physical Limitations
Again, it's natural and expected that people in the early stages of arthritis fear how limiting the disease will be over their lifetime. As pain and joint damage worsen, physical limitations become greater. Will you be able to continue working? Will you be able to fulfill your role in your family? Will you have to give up running or playing tennis or whatever hobbies are important to you? What will change? How significant will the changes be from what you are used to or what you had expected? You will learn over time how to make adjustments that are necessary with physical limitations. "Adapt and adjust" will become your mantra.
3 - Worsening Symptoms and Unsatisfactory Treatment Response
There are so many treatment options for arthritis that people become anxious and fearful that the treatment they are using won't control pain or slow progression of the disease sufficiently. Essentially, people are afraid of wasting valuable time and money on ineffective treatments. Dissatisfaction with certain treatments can lead you to believe outrageous claims from quack remedies. The quick fix is very appealing. Too bad it doesn't exist. While frustration is understandable, make wise treatment decisions with your doctor and be patient while you determine if your treatment is working.
4 - Drug Side Effects
People with arthritis are advised to weigh benefits and risks of medications or other treatments. It is a fact that most medications have side effects associated with them. The side effects can be mild and not too bothersome, or severe enough to require attention. This is concerning to most patients who do not want the treatment to be worse than the disease itself. Serious side effects can make it necessary for you to stop a medication -- even if it seemed to help your arthritis. You should report any unusual changes to your doctor. Also, for certain drugs, your doctor should order periodic blood tests to test your liver, kidneys, and blood counts. You don't need to be fearful, but you do need to be vigilant.
5 - Loss of Independence
Losing your independence goes beyond the need to adjust and adapt. When you lose your independence, you have to depend on others to do things for you. If arthritis becomes severely disabling, you may not be able to go to the grocery store yourself. You may have trouble lifting, walking, driving, cooking, doing laundry, or performing personal care tasks. Being independent means you can take care of yourself in every way. Many people take being able-bodied for granted. People with arthritis, on the other hand, may fear that they will cross from needing to adjust and adapt to requiring a considerable amount of help and becoming dependent on other people.
6 - Ending Up in a Wheelchair
It's a common fear of people with physical disability: ending up in a wheelchair. It is the dependence, the inability to move about at will using your own two feet, and the confinement that can be overwhelming. I was close to someone who was a wheelchair user. Interestingly, the person was able to reconcile the need for the wheelchair in their own mind, yet they felt other people looked at them differently. The feeling of being different was hard for them to accept. It's an emotional thing to need one, but for those who have lost mobility, it's a necessity.
7 - Effect of Chronic Illness on Relationships
Living with chronic pain and physical limitations not only affects you, it affects people who are close to you. It is not uncommon for people with arthritis to fear how their condition will affect their marriage, their ability to parent, their ability to socialize with friends, and generally speaking, their role in all of their significant relationships. When your spouse has to take on more responsibility, it can have an effect. When you can't play or roughhouse with your kids, it can have an effect. When your friends call and want to go out, but you repeatedly have to decline, it can have an effect. A person in pain isn't much fun. Let's face it, chronic pain can rock the boat and everyone in the boat. But, fear not. A devoted spouse and true friends will survive it along with you -- and your kids are getting a lesson in compassion.
8 - Financial Loss
There is a cost that goes with having a chronic disease like arthritis -- an actual cost in dollars and cents. People with arthritis have the additional burden of paying for medical care, including doctor visits, insurance premiums, prescription medications, durable medical equipment and more. This burden, on top of the physical and emotional toll, is something people with arthritis fear. Can they add the cost of medical care into their already tight budget? If they are forced to stop working due to disability or if they lose a job due to the economy, will they be able to meet the financial demand of having a chronic illness? Make smart financial decisions. Plan ahead and know that chronic illness is a factor in your financial future.
9 - Passing Arthritis on to Your Kids
Many parents with arthritis fear passing the disease on to their children. The exact cause of arthritis is still being unraveled. There is thought to be some genetic involvement but heredity has never been considered the sole cause of arthritis. While genetics and family history are considered risk factors, the disease is not considered "hereditary." Certain genes may be passed on that increase the risk of developing the disease, however. While you may think having your child tested will allay your fears, that's not recommended.
10 - Dying From Arthritis
As though living with arthritis weren't tough enough, many people fear they will die from the disease. Is this a legitimate fear? Actually, there is an increased risk of mortality associated with certain types of arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis may also have a greater risk of mortality due to malignancies, infections, kidney disease, respiratory conditions, and gastrointestinal disease -- some of which may be treatment-related.
Cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in rheumatoid arthritis. American Journal of Medicine. 2008 Oct;121(10 Suppl 1):S9-14. Gabriel SE.
RAPID. Patient Education: 10 Frequently Asked Questions About Rheumatoid Arthritis. Accessed 07/14/12.