Finding out you have arthritis when you are young can be confusing and frightening. You may have thought that only older people were affected by arthritis. Possibly, the only people you have known with arthritis are your grandparents and their friends, but there are different types of arthritis some of which can affect people of any age, even children and teenagers.
The good news is that arthritis doesn’t need to stop you from having an active social life, studying, working, travelling and having a family. With the right advice, and some adjustments, you can still live your life well, despite your arthritis.
So go ahead… and live your life well
Having friends, an active social life and fulfilling intimate relationships is an important part of life. However, starting and maintaining these connections can be challenging, especially as a young adult with a chronic (long-term) illness such as arthritis. If you live with pain, fatigue, stress and anxiety about the future, it can make it difficult to want to socialise and have the confidence and energy to start and sustain intimate relationships – but it is possible. And, in fact, research has shown that having secure, good-quality relationships can help you cope with the everyday challenges of arthritis.
If you are experiencing feelings such as loneliness, isolation, stress, depression or anxiety, it is important to seek help, so talk to your GP or a psychologist.
Physical activity is important for everybody and we all should be regularly exercising. Research has shown that regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for arthritis. It can strengthen the muscles around your affected joints, improve mobility and flexibility as well as help reduce pain and fatigue.
The key is to find out which exercises are best for you. Your GP or rheumatologist will also be able to help you with this. They may even suggest seeing a physiotherapist, or an appropriately experienced personal trainer or an exercise physiologist, to help design an exercise program tailored to your specific needs. With a doctor’s referral you may be able to see a physiotherapist funded by Medicare. Or if you want to contact a physiotherapist directly, contact the Australian Physiotherapy Association.
The best diet for people living with arthritis is a healthy, balanced diet, one that helps maintain your general health and well-being. No diet has been shown to cure arthritis, but the good news is researchers have identified certain foods that can help control inflammation. Many of them are found in the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fish, vegetables and olive oil.
Studies have shown that eating foods rich in omega-3, including oily fish such as sardines and salmon, ground linseeds and walnuts, can help reduce inflammation. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important as extra bodyweight increases the stresses on joints, especially the hips and knees.
Remember, eating well is one way you can help manage your arthritis, but a healthy diet is not a replacement for taking medicines to manage your arthritis. For more information see Healthy Eating.
Education and training
Trying to fit in study or training while managing your arthritis and the rest of your life may be a daunting prospect, but with the right support and approach you can successfully ‘hit the books’.
Depending on what you choose to study, there may be some options that make it easier for you to manage.
- Workload. If you find fatigue or tiredness a problem, you could consider studying part-time.
- Mode of study. Many universities and educational organisations offer online courses and other options which mean you don’t always have to go to the campus. These options many be good if you find it easier to study from home.
- On-campus accommodation. If you are facing long days of classes and/or a lengthy commute, you may want to consider the option of living on campus.
When you have arthritis, work can sometimes feel a lot like hard work especially if your physical symptoms are affecting your ability to get your job done. You might be finding it challenging to stay in your current job, or are worried about finding new work because of your condition. The good news is that treatments for arthritis have significantly improved and, nowadays, many more people with arthritis can keep working despite their condition. In fact, more than 50% of people with rheumatoid arthritis continue to work for twenty years after their diagnosis. Staying in the workforce may require anything from a little support to a complete change of roles, but there are many services available to help you.
If your condition is making it difficult for you to perform your usual work, or find new work, it is important to understand that arthritis is a recognised disability. This means it attracts certain rights outlined in the Disability Discrimination Act and you may be eligible for additional support to help you stay in the workforce.
You may have always dreamed of hitting the open road…but then you discovered you have arthritis. There is no need to throw the suitcase away just yet; with careful planning you can still have the trip of a lifetime. You will need to consider things like medicines, travel insurance, planning ahead to be able to manage care/train/plane travel and how to pace yourself.
Starting a family
Starting a family is a big step for any couple; perhaps even more so if you have arthritis. You may be worried about whether you can cope with children, how pregnancy might affect your arthritis, and if your children will also develop arthritis. If you are thinking about having a baby, it is important to talk to your doctor before trying to conceive, so you understand what steps you need to take to prepare for pregnancy and parenthood.
It is important for both partners to be fully aware of the risks and challenges associated with pregnancy. Coping with a newborn baby, a toddler or a child requires love, time and commitment from both partners, especially when one has arthritis.
Download our booklet A Guide for Young Adults with Arthritis