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The Diagnostic Turning Point for 5 People With Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Living with a health condition can be frustrating and unpredictable, even on the “good” days. When the “bad” days become more frequent or even unbearable, and you struggle to get out of bed, are forced to cancel plans, or miss work — you might decide that you need a little extra support through treatment.

Research suggests that the delay in seeking treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is not uncommon. Studies have found that some people with RA experience significant delays between the onset of symptoms and the initiation of appropriate treatment. These delays can range from a few weeks to several months or even years.

There are several reasons why people with RA might ignore or delay seeking medical attention until the condition worsens:

1. Gradual onset of symptoms

RA typically develops slowly, with symptoms that may be mild and intermittent at first. You might attribute these symptoms to temporary factors like aging, overexertion, or minor injuries, and dismiss the possibility of a chronic condition.

2. Lack of awareness

Some people may not be familiar with RA or its early signs. You might not recognize the symptoms or underestimate their significance, assuming that the discomfort will resolve on its own.

3. Fear or denial

Some people might fear the implications of living with RA. This could lead you to deny or downplay your symptoms as a coping mechanism.

4. The stigma surrounding chronic conditions

With stigma, you may feel reluctant to acknowledge your symptoms or seek help to avoid being labeled as “sick” or “weak.”

5. Misdiagnosis or confusion with other conditions

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, especially in the early stages, can overlap with other medical conditions or even mimic common aches and pains. A misdiagnosis or uncertainty about the cause of symptoms can delay appropriate treatment.

6. Busy lifestyles and priorities

You may have numerous responsibilities and commitments that require you to prioritize work, family, or other obligations over your health. This could distract you from the symptoms until they become more severe.

7. Financial concerns

Some people might avoid seeking medical attention due to concerns about health care costs, especially if you have limited access to affordable health care.

8. Limited access to health care

In certain regions or communities, access to health care services might be limited, leading people to delay seeking medical attention until the condition becomes unbearable.

We asked members of our Mighty community to share a defining moment that made them seek treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Here’s what they had to say:

“When my mental health started to deteriorate because of the pain and hopelessness.” —@dededawn311

“I was finally referred to a rheumatologist by my PCP when my feet hurt so bad I could hardly walk. My mom had RA and my PCP had been keeping an eye on my inflammation levels for a come of years before that.” — @priscillaanthony

“I was hiking the Long Trail in VT, and on the fourth day, woke up so stiff I literally couldn’t move. I was a 38-year-old [in good shape] who had just hiked 40 miles, and my body collapsed. My hiking partner and I barely made it out of the woods that day.” — @cindyellenr

“I went to the emergency room with my legs so swollen that I was afraid my skin was going to rip. I finally found a PCP that was willing to listen to me and help me. I was referred to a rheumatologist and had a bunch of blood work done and was prescribed several different meds. I don’t think I have ever hurt so much in my life. I’m still not on the right combination of meds yet, [and] my body keeps building up a tolerance to everything.” — @frogwhite

“I was hospitalized with every joint in my body severely inflamed. No pain medicine would help, and I couldn’t eat any food for a long time now. I did ask a doctor for help but my new PCP ignored me. Anyway, they had to put me back on high doses of prednisone again.” — @sukhablue115

What made you seek treatment for your RA, either for the first time or after a length of time without any intervention? Share your defining moment in the comments below.

Getty image by SDI Productions

Originally published: August 3, 2023
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