Rheumatoid Arthritis: Living With a Chronic Disease

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Catherine Burt Driver, MD
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

What are the typical responses from patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis?

First of all, any given individual affected by a chronic, progressive disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, with all of its known complexities, will react to encountering the illness in his/her own way. This is expected, and this is normal.

The response of an individual to developing rheumatoid disease will be based to some degree on their past experiences, their background medical knowledge, their educational abilities, the intensity and location of their disease, and many other factors, including their occupation and personal support systems.

The health-care professional will recognize each of these factors when reviewing the rheumatoid disease with the patient. It has been my policy to make it clear to my patients that I do not want them to "accept" their disease, but I also do not want them to "deny" it.

I fully recognize that my patients with rheumatoid arthritis did not "dial in" their conditions -- they didn't ask for the problem. And I do not want them to be complacent about accepting symptoms or signs of the condition. In this way, we can work together to optimally monitor the condition and its response to treatments. Simultaneously, I do not want my patients to deny their illness. This could lead to devastating permanent consequences to the joints that are avoidable. Modern-day rheumatoid treatments can be very effective at stopping the progression and consequences of this disease.

Eventually, what we want to achieve is a system whereby the doctor and the patient can prudently address symptoms and signs of rheumatoid arthritis while optimally monitoring for both the effects and side effects of treatments. Medical research has clearly shown that the greater this prudence the better the outcome for patients.

Medically reviewed by Kirkwood Johnston, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Rheumatology


Klippel, John H., et al., eds. Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases. 13th ed. New York: Springer and Arthritis Foundation, 2008.

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