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When Claire Yacoub started getting a sharp pain in her wrist and thumb, she never expected to be diagnosed with an illness more commonly associated with the elderly.

‘I began displaying symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) while living in Canada in 2019, and was diagnosed a few months into the pandemic in 2020,’ Claire, who is a nursing assistant and youth worker, can metformin cause extreme tiredness tells 

After she started struggling with her initial symptoms, Claire’s GP ordered full investigations when the pain quickly began to affect both her hands and wrists.

‘It shortly became bilateral,’ Claire explains, which was a shock to her. ‘It was terrifying being diagnosed with an immune disease during the pandemic.’

The impact of lockdown was significant and debilitating. Claire says adjusting to her new situation and coming to terms with her diagnosis under those circumstances was really isolating.

‘It was tough, particularly as a young person, because my condition meant that I was “clinically extremely vulnerable”. I was in a high-risk group.

‘Being higher risk did set me apart from many of my friends and peers, as it meant that I needed to be extra vigilant.

‘I also didn’t really realise the gravity of my situation until I got the letter telling me how serious my condition was for me during a pandemic. It made me realise that I needed to make positive lifestyle changes to protect my health.’

There are currently 18.8 million people living with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions in the UK. That’s one in four people, with half of those living in pain every single day, according to charity Versus Arthritis.

The impact is huge, as the condition intrudes on everyday life – affecting the ability to work, care for a family, to move without pain and, in some cases, to live independently. Yet arthritis is often dismissed as something that only impacts older people, or an ‘inevitable’ part of ageing.

Actually, about 15,000 children and young people in the UK are affected by arthritis, but that figure doesn’t take into account people in their 20s and 30s who are diagnosed, too – and it is often difficult for them to find the support they need.

‘While I’ve grown to accept my condition, I did find that there was a misconception among some that arthritis only affects the elderly,’ says Claire.

‘It made me feel self-conscious of my condition, as well as embarrassed to explain to people that it was important for me to take care to minimise my contact with others in a pandemic.

‘It’s so important that people do not feel defined by their diagnosis of arthritis. I thought that once my RA was controlled that it wouldn’t affect my life anymore, however is does still affect me quite a bit.

‘My advice for people who have been recently diagnosed with arthritis is you shouldn’t bury your head in the sand. Instead, reach out to loved ones, and find daily rituals and ways to deal with the condition.

‘Physical exercise and finding solutions in the home that make the everyday tasks easier on your joints can also be good ways to deal with arthritis. Whatever works, for you.’

In the lead up to National Arthritis Week, which begins on October 7, Claire has been working with Arthr, a social venture which is urging people to take action to safeguard their musculoskeletal health as we continue to spend more time working from home. They want people – of any age – to be aware of potentially serious symptoms.

A survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,040 UK workers, conducted by Versus Arthritis, found that 81% of desk workers who switched to remote working in lockdown now experience back, neck or shoulder pain as a result.

Another study, conducted by the Royal Society of Public Health, found that half (48%) of workers who worked remotely from a bedroom or sofa said they had developed musculoskeletal problems since working from home.

‘It is important that people make positive lifestyle changes to protect their musculoskeletal health when continuing to spend more time at home,’ says Bobby Watkins, managing director at Arthr. ‘This includes participating in regular physical activity and finding functional solutions that they are happy to use in their homes.

‘As a social venture, we are determined to end the stigma associated with musculoskeletal conditions by creating stylish, functional products to help prevent pain and enable people with arthritis or similar conditions to live life to the full.’

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