I am pleased to present you an interesting perspective of the day in the life of a patient with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of arthritis that can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, redness, tenderness, and deformity of many joints of the body. For patients with this illness, each day's activities can present many challenges. Notice how this patient's record illustrates that the simplest of activities, which we often take for granted, can pose a significant obstacle for a patient with rheumatoid arthritis.

William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR -- Medical Editor, MedicineNet


Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Mrs. K.D. is a 43-year-old wife and mother of two children and suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis. This is her story...

I have rheumatoid arthritis and would like to share with you the details of what a typical day is like for me from start to finish. This entry is not about my disease itself or its treatment but about the way it affects what I do throughout my day. I hope that by describing the details of what my day is like people will be more enlightened as to some of the experiences people with rheumatoid arthritis must endure regularly. I also hope that sharing these experiences will make it easier for acquaintances, friends, and family members to interact with those who suffer from this disease.

By way of background, I am a 43-year-old wife and mother of two grade-schoolers and have had severe rheumatoid arthritis now for nearly 10 years. My husband is understanding and supportive. My disease has caused deformity of my hands and feet. My fingers are recognizably gnarled and have bumps, called nodules. My wrists have nearly fused so that I can move them very little. My toes have cocked up and I have calluses under the pads at the bottoms of my feet. My knees are chronically slightly swollen as are many of the small joints of my knuckles.

Things that most people take for granted, for example sleeping, bathing, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, making meals, and even driving a car, are extremely challenging for me.

Wake up and get the kids ready for school!

My day begins after what I had hoped would be a fair night's rest. When I sleep, I typically need to shift from side to side in bed because my shoulders become stiff and sore when I stay on one side for over half an hour. After sitting up at the side of the bed, I am careful to stand slowly since my knees, like all of my joints, are particularly stiff in the morning. I slowly make my way to the kitchen and prepare coffee and lunches for my children.

Because my finger dexterity has been impaired with my deformities, I favor the premade snack packs to accompany their sandwiches. I use a knife with an oversized grip handle to spread the jellies and peanut butter on the bread. To open jars, I use a lid gripper pad. I screw the lids back on loosely so that next time they are more easily removed. Fruits are added with no extra preparation necessary from me.

The kids prepare their own breakfast cereals. I eat toast with jelly and have a bowl of cereal. With my breakfast, I take my medications. Each of my bottles has an easy-open lid for patients with arthritis. Because my joint pains were particularly bothersome today, I added acetaminophen (Tylenol). I must place my medications well out of normal reach of the children since many of them contain chemicals that could be harmful to them.

After breakfast, it's time for my morning hygiene routine. Using a toilet can be challenging to someone with significant arthritis of the hips and knees. In my home, I have added inexpensive plastic raised toilet seat attachments to the toilets. This means that I do not have to strain my joints sitting down and getting up.

I have found that an electric toothbrush does a better job than I can do operating a brush with my hands. My arthritis is complicated by severe dryness of the mouth, called Sjögren's syndrome, which makes me susceptible to tooth decay. I must visit the dentist very regularly and brush and floss regularly. I cannot floss without the assistance of a Y-shaped floss holder.

The Sjögren's syndrome also causes dryness in my eyes and I must apply artificial tears now and throughout the day to maintain normal moisture in my eyes. Because of this dryness, I am unable to wear contact lenses.