TWO women who were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in their 20s have spoken about how the disease does not just affect old people.
Clare Cochrane, 43, and Julie Cooper, 40, both want to smash the stigma as part of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Awareness Week, which begins on Monday.
For the last 22 years Mrs Cochrane has lived in pain every day because of RA, discovering she had the disease when she was just 21 years old.
She said: “I was getting aches and pains in my joints. I just figured it was part of my lifestyle as a student and what I had to live with.
“When you’re 20 you don’t think it’s some chronic disease that changes your whole life. It didn’t cross my mind.
“Six months later, on my 21st birthday, I became immobile and couldn’t move. Every joint was swollen and I was in terrible agony.
“The biggest shock was how it affected my life immediately. I had to take a lot of time to adjust to it. What people don’t realise is it’s not just about having a limp. Your immune system goes off and you feel generally ill, and everything is hard work.”
Mrs Cooper, from Tiddington, was diagnosed with RA when she fell pregnant with her first child Leo, who is now 10-years-old.
She said: “I was 29 and had noticed for about two years previously that I’d been getting incidents of severe joint pain.
“They were extremely painful and I would get very tired, but then they’d go away and I’d be fine. But when I got pregnant it got very bad so I couldn’t walk.”
Mrs Cooper, who is also mum to Harry, five, and Isa, one, said: “Unless you showed my swollen knees it’s invisible. That’s what’s really hard about it. No-one can see what’s wrong.
“When people think of arthritis they think of old ladies with swollen knuckles and needing hip replacements. There’s a stigma. All diseases are hideous, but some need more help to promote themselves. RA is one of those.”
Oxford’s National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) branch is hoping the disease will lose its stigma as an “old people’s disease”.
Group coordinator Sue Thwaite said: “RA is the invisible disease. There are no marks, no bruises.
“It’s hard for people to understand how much pain patients are in when they can’t see anything. People of all ages can get this, even babies are diagnosed with it.
“It’s not something that’s just for old people.”
Approximately 1,600 people in the Oxford area and about 7,000 people in Oxfordshire have RA.
The NRAS will hold an information stand in the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre from Monday to Sunday, June 22, with a cake sale on Thursday to raise money for the charity. For more information visit nras.org.uk
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease where the immune system attacks the joints. It causes inflammation, stiffness, pain and fatigue.
Women are three times as likely as men to have the disease.
Early signs of the disease are tiredness, a fever, stiff joints in the morning and numbness or tingling around your joints. Hands and feet are often the first places to be affected by RA.
As an autoimmune disease, RA is different to osteoarthritis, which is caused by age and the breakdown of cartilage in the joints.
While osteoarthritis can be extremely painful, it is limited to the effected joints, rather than affecting the rest of the patient.