When you hear the word 'arthritis', you probably think of your nan struggling with her stiff hands or swollen hip joints. It's certainly not a disease most of us associate with women in their 20s and 30s – but for younger women who do live with various forms of arthritis, it can have a profound effect on their careers, social lives and relationships, as well as their decisions about when and how to start a family.
Arthritis describes a category of conditions that cause joint pain and inflammation. The two main forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) – typically associated with 'wear and tear', which mostly affects joints in the hands, knees, hips and spine; and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – a form of inflammatory arthritis where the body's immune system targets certain joints, causing swelling and pain.
Other sub-types of inflammatory arthritis include ankylosing spondylitis (AS), which affects the bones, muscles and ligaments of the spine, and psoriatic arthritis (PsA), which affects the skin and joints.
Treatments – such as oral medications or injections – are used to manage arthritis symptoms and potentially achieve remission, but sufferers may still experience painful flare-ups.
As the #MaybeBaby campaign launches to help younger women with inflammatory arthritis make informed choices about their futures, three women – who were all diagnosed in their 20s – tell us what living with arthritis has taught them.