By Rachel Whetstone from In The Cloud Copy
Although people sometimes want to hide away when a disease leaves visible marks on their bodies, Academy Award winning actress Tatum O’Neal is taking a different approach. She is sharing pictures of the scars from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) on Instagram, so that others who struggle with the disease will feel less alone.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease occurring when the body’s immune system fights against its own cells even when the cells are healthy. This particular disease often impacts the joints, typically in the hands, feet, elbows, wrists, ankles, and knees. In severe cases, it can affect the body’s organs as well, including the heart, lungs, and eyes. Approximately 1.3 million adults in total are affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
Patients typically suffer from pain and swelling, as well as loss of function in their joints. They might also feel weak and fatigued and can experience fever and weight loss. Symptoms are not constant, but rather they often alternate between periods of flare-ups and then remission.
It’s not fully known what causes RA, although certain populations are at greater risk. Some people have an increased risk due to genetics, and others suffer from the disease alongside other health problems.
A Brave Decision to Share
In a recent Instagram post, O’Neal posted a picture of her back to show the scars that she had as a result of RA. She wanted to give fans some insight into life with the disease.
O’Neal explained how RA left her with scars, even sometimes from seemingly minor injuries. One scar came from a scratch on her hip after a fall. Others were left after she had back surgery. She also had a number of red marks on her back from using a heating pad on a high setting for pain relief.
In a different post, O’Neal discussed some of the RA symptoms that affect her life. She described how she had difficulty texting because of pain in her hands. She hopes that people don’t take it personally if she can’t text back right away.
Although the marks appear to be painful, O’Neal assured her fans that she was actually on the mend from her last flare-up.
Patients Don’t Have to Live in Pain
Although there’s no cure for RA, there are treatments available for patients who are enduring the disease. Monitoring symptoms can make a big difference in catching the flare-ups early and treating the pain and swelling. Medications such as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biological response modifiers (BRMs, aka immunotherapy) can ease symptoms, especially when combined with pain reducing exercises. Some patients can manage their symptoms to the extent that there is very little disruption in their lives.
Even for those who struggle with the worst of RA symptoms, O’Neal provides a great reminder that suffering from pain should never feel like something shameful. O’Neal used the hashtag #rheumatoidarthritiswarrior, which thousands of other RA patients are using to share their photos and their stories to build a supportive community.