‘If I get enough sleep and don’t overdo things, it’s manageable’

Jonathan Gledhill was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2006, aged 27. He explains how arthritis affects his life.

“I have sero-negative rheumatoid arthritis, which doesn’t show up in blood tests for arthritis. I have it in several joints but mainly in both knees, my right wrist, hands, feet, elbow and it may be affecting my spine a little now. I have pain and swelling in the joints, and muscle stiffness, especially in the morning.

“It started in my right knee when I damaged the cartilage in a car accident in 2001. The knee was sore, swollen and stiff, and never recovered. During the next four years I developed pain in my wrists, thumb, feet and ankles, but blood tests for arthritis were negative. My GP prescribed anti-inflammatory painkillers for me.

“I was eventually diagnosed via X-rays in 2006. There’s a theory that a traumatic accident can start arthritis in the damaged area of the body, but the doctors couldn’t say for sure whether the accident started the arthritis or whether it was a coincidence. My grandma has arthritis, so I might have inherited it from her.

“I started taking an anti-rheumatic drug to slow the progression of the arthritis. For about 18 months I didn’t have to take so many painkillers, but now the drug has become less effective. I go to the rheumatology clinic every six months to check my progress, and I have monthly blood tests to make sure the drug isn’t affecting my liver.

“I’m lucky that I’m still quite mobile. I live with my girlfriend but can do everything for myself. I can walk unaided, though I’ve developed a limp. After 15 or 20 minutes of walking I get quite sore. I had an embarrassing incident in the cinema recently. I nearly fell over when I tried to stand up. My knee had locked and I couldn’t straighten it. My friends had to help me out and take me to A&E, but as soon as we arrived my knee relaxed and I could use it again.

“I can still work in my job in IT, and my boss is understanding. He lets me work later hours so that I don’t have to rush in the morning when my pain and stiffness is at its worst. After a little while it starts to loosen up a bit.

“Something I find frustrating is that people can look at you and not realise there’s anything wrong. I’m not unwell enough to need a disabled badge, but the walk up the hill from the car park can make me sore. People often assume arthritis happens only to older people.

“The pain in my feet feels as if I’m wearing shoes that are too tight and won’t let me bend my toes. And because my hands are affected I sometimes have trouble opening cans and turning taps, but I’ve bought a tin opener with a ratchet handle instead of a twisting one, and that’s a lot easier to use. I’ve had to give up rugby and hillwalking but I can still drive and cycle. I took up exercise biking, which helps, and I lift light weights to strengthen my muscles. 

“The main thing is to get plenty of rest. If I get enough sleep and don’t overdo things, it’s reasonably manageable.

“Sometimes pain in my elbow wakes me up in the night, but generally I sleep well. Overdoing an activity, even DIY, can make me suffer the next day, so I make sure I have lots of breaks. Warm water helps too, having a nice hot bath or going swimming. I went on holiday to Florida and the warm weather there made me feel a lot better.

“My condition will probably progress slowly to the stage where I’ll need surgery, but hopefully that won’t be for a long time.

“When I was diagnosed, I felt relieved to be able to identify my symptoms, but also quite angry. There were things I still wanted to do, such as taking up running. I had to accept I wouldn’t be able to do them. It took me about a year to come to terms with my diagnosis and be more positive.

“My family, friends and people with arthritis on the Arthritis Care forum helped me realise it’s not the worst thing you can have. Although arthritis has an impact on your life it won’t stop you doing a lot of the things you like to do.”

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