Recently, I received three magazine that focus on arthritis and I’d be remiss if I did not address the advertizing contained within these magazines and how negatively advertising has impacted the general public’s view on rheumatoid arthritis and our own view of our illness. It’s just not magazines for arthritis patients, but main stream magazines, billboards, and television commercials promoting expensive biological agents that depict patients performing activities that are unrealistic for most moderate to severe RA sufferers. It goes beyond the multimillion dollar heavy hitting biologic drug makers trying to get their share of the market, it also involves the manufacturers of over the counter supplements and gadgets.
Not even two pages into a popular arthritis magazine there is an ad for an over the counter joint care supplement that depicts a couple dancing a jive in a tropical setting which would seem to say, “if you take this supplement you too will be able to enjoy a night in the tropics dancing a jive,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. The ad even states that the supplement keeps your joints jumping. Sigh. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t jumped in four years since I was diagnosed with RA. When a layperson sees these ads it discredits the patient which feeds the misconception the general public has about RA. I mean, can you imagine having tried to educate your loved one about why you are fatigued, in pain, and are missing work, then that loved one accompanies you to the rheumatology office just to find magazine after magazine about arthritis depicting advertizing of miracle drugs, patients engaged in outgoing activities, and drug company posters and literature everywhere that shows active, healthy looking people? The ultimate conclusion made by the layperson is that arthritis isn’t that bad and that your aren’t being truthful about your disease which is so hurtful.
There are well-meaning people who always want to help by telling you about the latest TV infomercial supplement that cures aches and pains and will make it all better. As a nurse, I have concerns anyway about these supplement claims and advertising because supplements are not regulated by the FDA and can interact with many prescription medications to cause adverse effects. Sometimes these adverse effects are not caught by the doctor or the pharmacist because most patients do not think to add supplements, minerals or vitamins to their medication list because they see them as being harmless. I urge everyone to add any over the counter medication you take to your medication list you share with your physician for your own health and protection. In fact, the July/August 2013 issue of Arthritis Today magazine issued a health watch article about supplements. Apparently several Americans were taking a supplement touted as a natural pain remedy called “Reumofan”. It was found that this supplement actually contained pharmaceutical ingredients of dexamethasone (a steroid), diclofenac (a NSAID) and methocarbamol (a muscle relaxer). This supplement has since be recalled, but you can imagine the complications this could have caused had the patient taking this drug had an allergy, an opposing disease that disallowed some of these pharmaceutical ingredients, or caused an adverse interaction with a prescribed medication. The article in Arthritis Today recommends that you can protect yourself against something like this happening to you by avoiding supplements that claim to have the same effect of prescription medications. In addition, try to stay with a name brand of supplement that you trust. What is so frightening about this is that RA patients are vulnerable because we want our old lives back and we want the pain to stop. Unfortunately, there are plenty of sharks out there that want to feed on our vulnerability, so buyer beware.
The trend in advertising showing people engaged in sporting events, leaping in the air, or hiking with a 50lb backpack in the mountains are being replaced by more realistic advertizing due to the outcry by individual rheumatoid patients and RA patient groups. In fact, I have seen several of the big biological manufacturers turn the tide by depicting ads showing difficulty in opening a jar and a patient reading a short letter she just wrote to her rheumatologist about how her pain while rubbing her aching hand. I think they are getting the message that their advertising has been offensive to most established RA patients. I know that I wasn’t very confident in trying some of the biologics I was put on because of the false promise advertisers pledged. In fact, I think I may have went through a lot of biological agents because I had a false expectation of what they could do. I just wanted the pain to stop. Sometimes biological agents don’t stop the pain, but they do slow the disease an address inflammation and stiffness. I personally think the pain needs to be better addressed before hoping from one biological agent to another if the ESR and CRP blood levels show improvement. For some very lucky people, biological agents are their brass ring but it’s more rare than you think.
What is lacking in magazines are the true stories of people who suffer greatly with disease. Most magazine articles are upbeat and offer hope to RA patients. Especially those that are free at the doctors office that are basically produced by pharmaceutical companies. Several articles about RA depict photos of RA sufferers being actively engaged in dancing, bicycling, and jogging. There are those with mild to moderate disease that can still do these things. I only mention this because it made me feel like something more was wrong with me when I was newly diagnosed. I quickly went from a mild to moderate form of sero-negative RA to moderate to severe S-RA in a matter of 3 1/2 years. There was no biking for me. I struggled just to get out of bed and go to work and eventually lost that battle and had to file for disability.
When I compared my situation to that of those people in magazine ads and articles about RA it made me feel like I’d failed in some way. Finding other patients with RA was a life line for me. Not only did I find out that I wasn’t different, I shared many of the same signs and symptoms they did. I felt validated and it gave me the knowledge to be able to communicate more effectively with my physician. Don’t use advertising and articles about RA as a measuring stick for your disease. Talk individuals that have RA either through local support groups or social media for support. Seeking other RA patients will give you a more realistic picture of the disease and will help you feel less alone, especially when advertising, some articles about RA, and even your health care practitioner may cause you to feel that you are just a whiner, or that you are doing something wrong because you can’t do what is depicted in ads or recommended by your healthcare provider, or that your response to the drug isn’t ideal per the pharmaceutical literature. You know how your body feels. Trust that.