On February 2, 2024, the voices of many people who have rheumatoid disease will be heard. Rheumatoid disease, also known as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is an autoimmune condition in which the body believes the linings of the joints are foreign tissue, and so attacks and damages them, resulting in inflammation and pain.
About 1 percent of the American population lives with this condition, according to research. But of those 1.3 million people, two to three times as many women as men develop RA, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Worldwide, 70 percent of people with RA are women, according to the World Health Organization.
The day was created in 2013 by the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation (RPF) to help raise awareness for all the people who function daily with both pain and misconceptions about this chronic disease. Research has shown that a lack of public education and awareness can mean people wait too long to seek medical advice, which can result in inadequate treatment.
Busting Myths About Rheumatoid Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis
“I think the biggest myth about rheumatoid arthritis is that it is a type of arthritis, and not an immune system disease,” says Kelly O’Neill, the president of the RPF and author of Rheumatoid Arthritis Unmasked: 10 Dangers of Rheumatoid Disease. “It has more in common with multiple sclerosis and lupus. It’s not that similar to osteoarthritis.” According to the National Institutes of Health, autoimmune diseases may never go away, can be debilitating, and negatively impact quality of life.
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Other Misconceptions About RA
Another inaccurate assumption about rheumatoid disease, O’Neill says, is that the people who have the disease must somehow be to blame for it or are imagining or exaggerating their symptoms. “There is a public health message today that people need to take charge of their well-being, and an unfortunate side effect of that is that many people now believe that chronic diseases must somehow be behavior based,” says O’Neill. “That the person who has the disease is doing something to make it happen, be worse, or not improve. But that’s really not true.” Autoimmune diseases are not generally caused by lifestyle choices. “The only behavior that we have seen to improve it is to stop smoking, but it’s not exactly clear why,” she says.
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The Origin of Rheumatoid Awareness Day
The official name of the day does not include the word “arthritis” because RPF is campaigning to refer to the medical condition by the more traditional term that’s used in medical literature. “Arthritis is just one of the symptoms,” says O’Neill. “We chose the month of February for our awareness day because it is American Heart Month, and the two diseases are closely linked.” One study published in Arthritis Care & Research found that people with RA under age 45 had an almost threefold increased risk of cardiovascular disease death than the general population, in large part because of the high-grade systemic inflammation that goes along with RA.
Seth Ginsberg, the president and a cofounder of CreakyJoints, an online source for patient advocacy and support, says that Rheumatoid [Awareness] Day, provides members of the CreakyJoints patient community “a natural spotlight to raise awareness among their family, friends, and community about the challenges of living and managing a lifelong chronic disease. It invites dialogue, which is important for building the support system that people with arthritis rely on while dealing with the ups and downs of their condition.”
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Rheumatoid Awareness Day 2024: What’s Happening?
This year, you can check the RPF Facebook page for specific links and details. O’Neill says the organization encourages everyone to form their own events. “We give people a lot of information and images, and we ask people to post on our and their own social media. We’ve seen all kinds of parties, cupcakes, and other activities over the years,” says O’Neill. Here are some resources and ideas from previous events:
- Add a Twibbon to your social media avatar on Awareness Day.
- Join the RPF on Facebook and X.
- Use the hashtags #RheumDay, #TheRealRD, and #RheumAwarenessDay on social media to join and follow the conversation.
- Wear indigo and gold to show your support.
- Post on your personal blog about Rheumatoid Awareness Day.
Rheumatoid Disease Is More Than Arthritis
Beyond the heart disease connection, it is well-established that rheumatic diseases increase people’s risk for a variety of other health conditions.
The most common RA comorbidity is cardiovascular disease, but the condition is also associated with several specific cardiovascular issues, including heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, and atherosclerosis. Some research even suggests the heart risks associated with RA are comparable with those linked to diabetes. It is important for people with rheumatoid disease to work with their doctors to assess their heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking, and reduce them. Osteoporosis, or low bone density, as well as mental health conditions like anxiety and depression are also common in people with RA.
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More Arthritis Awareness Days and Campaigns