Your immune system is designed to protect your body. It helps you stay healthy and fight off bacteria and viruses. Sometimes, however, your immune system’s wires get crossed, and it starts attacking your body.
That’s what happens with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA attacks and damages joints. This leads to swelling, pain, inflammation, and possibly joint deformity.
Nearly 1.5 million people live with this condition. Women are three times more likely to have RA than men, and the average diagnosis comes between ages 30 and 60.
These seven celebrities and famous faces have all spoken publicly about how they cope and live with day-to-day RA realities.
1. Kathleen Turner
“It is important to me that people know they have options so they can get some relief from this debilitating disease,” said Kathleen Turner, a two-time Golden Globe winner for Best Actress and star of such hits as “Body Heat” and “Crimes of Passion,” to USA Today.
Her own road to an RA diagnosis has made the actress passionate about helping others understand what they may experience. Despite being young and in good shape, her body was failing her just a few years shy of her 40th birthday. For someone at their prime, it can be a challenging experience.
She was diagnosed in 1992 and underwent 12 surgeries in 12 years. Her doctors told her she’d eventually succumb to the disease and be in a wheelchair, but the actress, whose on-screen and onstage characters are often just as determined as Turner herself is in real life, wasn’t going to take this diagnosis sitting down.
She found a solution that keeps her active and moving: “Pilates, baby! Twice a week. Pilates saved my life,” the actress told The Times.
2. Camryn Manheim
Eight months came and went before actress Camryn Manheim knew what was causing her to experience sharp, stabbing pains in her hands. Her first pain came when she was using sign language to sing a song in her child’s classroom.
“I was feeling aches and pains in my hands, which was upsetting to me because I’m a sign-language interpreter — I use my hands all the time,” Manheim told People magazine. “I could hold a pen or a cup of coffee, but it was difficult. I was starting to feel fatigued too.”
Multiple tests later, and Manheim, who’s perhaps best known for her roles on “Ghost Whisperer” and “The Practice” had her answer: rheumatoid arthritis. “When [my doctor] told me it was rheumatoid arthritis I said that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. I’m too young. Well, I learned I was mistaken,” she said.
The diagnosis didn’t stop her, however. Once she knew what was making her hurt, she and her doctor worked out a treatment plan, and today, she’s living a relatively normal life. “You know, the thing is you have to get the proper diagnosis and then you can get the proper treatment,” she said. “Then you can put it behind you and live a full and eventful life.”
3. Kristy McPherson
A golfer’s swing is a work of pure art. Every joint, ligament, and bone in the body is working to support the rise and fall of the golf club. If even one thing goes wrong, the swing could be a miss.
Perhaps that’s what makes Kristy McPherson’s story so inspiring. The South Carolina native LPGA golfer was diagnosed with RA at age in 11, when she was in the sixth grade.
“It seemed like the end of the world,” she told Golf Digest. “I spent months in bed, unable to walk, with a rash and a swelling in my throat that made it difficult to breathe.”
From the pain of the diagnosis came a new-found love: golf. “Getting sick was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said. “I found a sport I loved. I don’t think I was going to make it in the WNBA. The LPGA has been wonderful.”
4. Megan Park
Her character on ABC’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” had little to hide — she was a cheerleader who didn’t shy away from the uniform’s standard short skirts and sleeveless tops. But in real life, Megan Park was hiding a secret about her body: She had been living with RA for 10 years.
“I had all the classic symptoms: extreme joint swelling, different pain, the inability to do certain things that everyone else could,” Park told People magazine in 2015. “That’s when I knew that something wasn’t right.”
When the actress made her diagnosis public, she did so to let other people living with RA know they weren’t alone.
“I actually think in a lot of ways, it’s helped me understand that everybody has plights, and it’s made me more empathetic, which I think has helped me as an artist, when I’m acting,” she said. “I think it’s opened my eyes to, everybody has a story, essentially. You may not know about it, but everybody has something.”
5. James Coburn
James Coburn, who played in popular western films like “The Magnificent Seven” and “Hell Is for Heroes,” was sidelined just as his career was getting hot because his joints were too painful to work.
“There was so much pain that … every time I stood up, I would break into a sweat,” he told ABC News.
At the time he was diagnosed, treatments weren’t as advanced as they are today. He found an alternative treatment that relieved his symptoms and stopped his pain. He was able to get back on the silver screen and maintained a fine acting career up until the day he died.
6. Aida Turturro
Most people think of arthritis as a disease for the elderly. The truth is, RA can strike at any age. For Aida Turturro, who starred on the HBO series “The Sopranos,” her diagnosis came when she was just 12.
“We were at the beach, and my father literally had to carry me to the water because my feet hurt so much,” she told USA Today.
Today the actress stays busy with television show appearances, and she’s not letting RA slow her down. “It is so important to go see a rheumatologist so you can get the right treatment,” Turturro says. “It can be frustrating to not know why you’re feeling so bad.”
7. Tatum O’Neal
In 1974, Tatum O’Neal became the youngest actress to win an Oscar. She won for the movie “Paper Moon,” in which she played one-half of a con-artist team alongside her real father, Ryan O’Neal. O’Neal went on to act in several other big movies, including “The Bad News Bears.” Her adult years were more tabloid fodder than television success, as the child star battled addiction and fought publicly with her father and her ex-husband, John McEnroe.
Later in life, she was diagnosed with RA and began speaking out about her symptoms and her treatments. In 2015, she recorded and shared a video of her undergoing a pulmonary function test after doctors realized her RA treatment was possibly damaging her lungs.
“I’ve got to get ahead of it,” she told the Arthritis Foundation. “I’ve got to! I have a young spirit and want to be able to do anything in the world that I want to do. I want a long, healthy life.”
O’Neal emphasizes the importance of having people around you who you can trust and lean on when things are hard. “I had to restructure my friends and support system,” she said. “You have to find a core group of family and friends to love you and stand by you.”