(BPT) – Many people don’t realize the impact moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can have on a person’s life. Find out from Gretchen what it’s like to live with the condition and things you should know.

1. There’s More to RA than the Hands
Moderate to severe RA isn’t characterized by just one symptom such as swelling of the joints, but a variety of symptoms that appear differently in each person. “When I first started feeling symptoms, I was surprised because I thought RA was only in the hands,” said Gretchen. “I enjoy gardening. But, I wasn’t just struggling holding my gardening tools; I was struggling to even kneel down to pick a few vegetables. I’ve since learned RA is most common in the hands, but also affects other joints.” RA comes in many forms, ranging from mild to more severe and can affect the neck, elbows, hips, knees, and feet.

2. Age Doesn’t Matter
Though it is more common in women, RA can affect adults at any age. “I didn’t see my doctor right away because I never suspected it could be RA. I was only 27, and I thought RA affected elderly women, not people like me. Turns out I was wrong. I encourage anyone who thinks they have symptoms to see a rheumatologist right away.”

3. Stiffness is Often the Worst in the Morning
Joint stiffness associated with moderate to severe RA is often at its worst first thing in the morning. It can last for a few hours or the entire day. “I work a full-time job and also care for my three kids, so I thought my stiffness was just due to long days on my feet. But when it was happening every morning, I knew it was time to see my doctor,” said Gretchen. Joint stiffness for a long time in the morning can be a clue that you may have RA, since few other arthritic diseases present the same way.

4. Low-Impact Exercise Can Help
When you’re in pain, the last thing you want to do is move around. But, movement is actually one of the best ways to manage your pain from moderate to severe RA. Low-impact aerobic exercises and exercises that boost muscle strength are best not only for reducing pressure on joints, but also overall health. “I love to go on walks because it’s a great workout without putting a lot of stress on my joints,” said Gretchen. “Walking is something I can enjoy with my husband and sons that helps me relax. I also try to stretch; it keeps my joints flexible.” Patients should follow up with their healthcare providers to understand what may work best for them.

5. Appropriate Treatment is Key
“For my patients, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are important for managing their moderate to severe RA.” said Alan Epstein, M.D., Pennsylvania Rheumatology Associates, PC. “There are a number of available treatment options, including a biologic therapy called ORENCIA, which are approved to help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of further joint damage in moderate to severe RA. If you experience RA symptoms like pain, stiffness, and swelling in your joints, I encourage you to work with your doctor right away to identify the most appropriate therapy for you.”

ORENCIA® (abatacept) is a prescription medicine that reduces signs and symptoms in adults with moderate to severe RA, including those who have not been helped enough by other medicines for RA. ORENCIA may prevent further damage to your bones and joints and may help your ability to perform daily activities. In adults, ORENCIA may be used alone or with other RA treatments other than tumor necrosis factor (TNF) antagonists. ORENCIA can cause serious side effects including serious infections. ORENCIA can make you more likely to get infections or make the infection that you have get worse. Some patients have died from these infections. Call your healthcare provider immediately if you feel sick or get any of the following signs of infection: fever; feel very tired; cough; feel flu-like; or warm, red or painful skin.

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