Advertising & False Expectations

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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.

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About Mischelle Jackson

I am a middle aged, single lady living with Rheumatoid Arthritis and other chronic illness which have led me into early retirement from a nursing career. I have a fur-baby, Jaycee, a Chihuahua, who makes me laugh and helps me get out of myself when I'm having a bad day. I crochet for relaxation when the RA allows. My faith sustains me.

8 responses »

  1. That was thoughtful, informed and very well written. Many of us do feel like we’ve failed if we aren’t able to get our old lives back with the use of biologics. I’m one of the many who aren’t able to take them at all, and for a long time I felt “if only..” I could start one of those drugs and be normal again. Like you, my lifeline has been the support of other RA sufferers, who have become my second family. In addition I have a wonderful rheumatologist who has made this journey much less frightening. To anyone newly diagnosed I would say ignore the advertising, talk to your doctor openly about your fears and expectations, and find at least one support group (preferably more) to help you maintain your sanity.

  2. What a fantastic, honest and heartfelt piece. Thank you for sharing. I know, personally, I struggle day to day in the workplace, with family and even doctors who just don’t GET me feeling the way I do. I have currently been put on bed rest for 10 days because of a persistent cough – My work tore shreds off me and I spent half the day crying yesterday because of it – No one understands, and it’s tough. It’s especially hard being told ‘Well I can do it, so you must be lying’. But it’s wonderful to come here and read the point of view from another RA sufferer, who you don’t need to explain to. They just get it.

    • Thank you tashpalmer for your response to this blog entry. The lack of understanding regarding autoimmune disease is one of the driving forces for a name change of rheumatoid arthritis. Even rheumatologist support changing the name to RAD: Rheumatoid Autoimmune Disease because “arthritis” is such a misnomer for this insidious, systemic illness. The struggle involved in working with autoimmune disease is what leads most to filing for disability. I hope you have intermittent FLMA to cover your absences from work without it counting against you. Still, I know, that doesn’t make up for the loss of pay and the repercussions of missing work. The added stress just seems to make the flares more frequent. I really do “get it”. If you have a FB account, search and “like” The Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior page by Kelly Young, who has worked tirelessly to be the voice for RA patients. You can find great support there if needed. I’ll be praying for you. GBY.

  3. I feel the same way, Mischelle. Your blog post is excellent. Thank you. I would love to see the Arthritis Foundation or RPF or SOME group put together a documentary that shows the full range of RA – from very mild disease or those in remission, right up to end-stage RA. The documentary should contain REALISTIC statistics about remission rates, response to treatment, and non-responders.

    One of the leading rheumatologists in my community said within this past year, and I quote, “nobody dies from RA”. The public misinformation and misperception absolutely needs correcting.

    I also wonder about the fact that the statistics of prevalence and incidence of RA shows that women are 3 times more likely to get RA then men. The age when the disease hits is usually between 30 and 50 years old (although more info is coming out about JIA). How do we get a documentary made? I can’t help but ponder about the value middle-aged women have in our society when diseases that kill us are so misperceived. Simply continuing to be polite and docile; tolerating these facts is outrageous !!

    • I agree with your statements Mary. I do know that the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation that is still in it’s fledgling stages is working toward more awareness and they have published some excellent papers on the truth of rheumatoid disease. This is a link to one of their “white papers” that they have encouraged patients to print and present to their physicians and to share with family, friends, and other rheumatoid patients. I hope you find it helpful. Perhaps as the foundation gains momentum, a documentary may be something that would have an impact on educating the medical field and general public. http://rheum4us.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Unmasking-Rheumatoid-Disease-The-Patient-Experience-of-Rheumatoid-Arthritis-White-Paper.pdf

      • Thanks Mischelle. I’m a member of the RPF and they’re a wonderful group. I think Kelly Young has done more for advancing the understanding of RA among people with RA and the general public than any human being I know. I believe her efforts also positively impact on the type of medical care we receive as people with RA are not as isolated. Technology now provides us access to accurate medical information as well as information from people living with the disease that was unheard of before.

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