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Arthritis: Personal stories

Debbie T. is 54 years old and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a freelance graphic designer and web database developer. In her spare time, she paints and maintains an online gallery to sell her work. She also buys and renovates old houses.

How long have you had arthritis?

I was first diagnosed with mild osteoarthritis in my lower back, neck, fingers, and ankles about 3 years ago. I now realize that I had symptoms for about a year before I knew what it was.

What are your symptoms?

The first symptom I noticed was a very painful stiff neck if I slept on my back, or sat for a period of time without moving my head (for example, while watching TV). This was followed within months by pain and stiffness in my ankles and lower back -- especially after resting from exercise, or when sitting for a long period of time. I was unable to sit or lie down for any period of time without pain and stiffness when I tried to move.

At this time I was doing a lot of painting, and I found that holding a brush and moving it in the same way made my arthritis much worse. There were other activities that also brought on symptoms, such as driving, scrubbing, and cleaning houses.

My symptoms got worse for several months. They weren't too bad, but at times I had extreme pain.

How did this affect your life?

It was mostly an annoyance, but there were times when I had to stop what I was doing.

When did you see a doctor?

I have regular checkups every 4 - 6 months. I mentioned it during a regular visit. I had some x-rays, which showed arthritis.

My doctor told me about ways to manage my symptoms at home. For now, I am not taking any prescription medicine. In general, my arthritis is fairly mild. I take ibuprofen for the pain, finding it to work much better than either aspirin or acetaminophen. The pain relievers help temporarily. Cold compresses also relieve a lot of the pain for me.

I have learned to pay attention to how I sit, and how I sleep, and have changed my pillows. Over a period of 2 - 3 months, mostly by paying attention to these things, the symptoms became much less severe. I try to avoid anything that makes it worse, and I have taught myself to use alternate motions for things I can't avoid. For example, by holding the paint brush in a different way, I was able to continue painting.

How is the pain now?

I still have occasional pain and stiffness. After all is said and done, I have made many changes to my lifestyle, but I don't consider any of them extremely difficult to make.

My symptoms are rarely bothersome anymore, and I hope they will remain that way if I continue to take good care of myself.


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Review Date: 12/24/2012
Reviewed By: Ariel D. Teitel, MD, MBA, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, NYU Langone Medical Center. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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