How to Tell People You Have Arthritis

Use these tips to easily tell friends and family about your arthritis.

You’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, started treatment and educated yourself about your condition. But have you shared the information with family and friends?  
“It’s a good idea to start a conversation with family members and friends – not to get medical advice, but because those who care about you will want to know what you’re experiencing. And it’s an important first step in building your support system,” explains Robert Katz, MD, a rheumatologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.  
But it’s not always easy to explain or convey what it means to have arthritis. It helps to think in advance about your “elevator speech.” Prepare a short, easy-to-understand summary – what you could say during an elevator ride.  
Where should you start and what should you include?  

Start with the Basics

Arthritis is extremely common, affecting 23% of adults – that’s more than 54 million people in the US. But don’t assume everyone understands exactly what it is. Have a few facts ready to share, including the type of arthritis you’ve been diagnosed with, the parts of your body it is affecting and how you’re going to treat it. 
Arthritis is a general term and there are many different types. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are very different from one another. Your friends and family will want to understand which condition is affecting you.
It’s also helpful to explain that some types are inflammatory and can affect not just the joints but some organs as well. Other conditions affect just the joints and mostly cause pain and movement problems. 

Share Specifics

Beyond the basics, friends and family likely want to know how you are feeling. Decide in advance what you want to share. You may stop at, “I was just recently diagnosed and am still learning about the condition.” Or you may want to get more detailed and say, “I have pain in my hands but I’ve started taking XYZ medication for it. It’s helping the pain but making me nauseous.”

Tone and Look Matters

People absorb messages not just from words, but also from our tone of voice and facial expressions. When sharing your news, do you appear embarrassed, sad or worried? Or do you sound and look matter-of-fact? They may remember this more than what you said. 

Focus on the Positive

No matter your diagnosis, Dr. Katz says there is always a positive message to share. That often starts with recent treatment advances.
“Advances in diagnosis and treatment have been impressive and those are important things to share,” Dr. Katz says. “If you’ve gotten an early diagnosis, that’s something else to celebrate. It’s important for all conditions and when it comes to inflammatory arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis, an early diagnosis and effective treatment can even prevent damage.”

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

If the tables were turned and the other person was sharing this information with you, you’d probably have questions. So empower your friend or family member to ask about your diagnosis, really listen to what they have to say so you can address their concerns and don’t forget to thank them for their support. 

Take Action

People may ask how they can help and support you. Don’t be afraid to ask for that help.
  • Keeping active - Physical activity keeps your joints moving and builds strength in the muscles supporting your joints. Exercising is more fun with friends, and they can serve as accountability partners too. So enlist your friends to do low-to-moderate impact activities with you – like walking, biking, swimming or water aerobics. 
  • Taking a field trip - Dr. Katz always recommends patients bring a buddy to their doctor appointments – to take notes and help correctly understand the information. Not only is there a lot to discuss in a short amount of time, but you also may be feeling nervous or rushed. A friend can be your second set of ears. 

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