Five years ago on one frosty morning, I was introduced to a sudden onset of joint stiffness, swelling and fatigue. I mistook it for the flu and waited six weeks before going to see my family physician. He took note of my symptoms and did a quick exam of my joints. It took him less than five minutes to make the decision to refer me to a Rheumatologist.
Early detection is vital for rheumatoid arthritis, but it can be difficult to identify when symptoms are masked in the shadow of other diseases. Many organizations have turned to technology, creating special software programs to assist in identifying the early signs of disease. These programs are known as “apps” and there are thousands of them, generated for many objectives and fashioned for all kinds of handheld devices. For a long time, I didn’t know what an “app” was – in my first year of living with RA I (quite literally) stumbled into the world of apps when I had the pleasure of participating in a short video created with the support of Arthritis Research Canada. It was incorporated into an app called ArthritisID and ArthritisID Pro, designed by Arthritis Consumer Experts to help patients and physicians identify and understand the early symptoms of arthritis. Arthritis ID uses a screening tool called a “homunculus” (a small version of the human body) where the user can highlight parts of the body where they are experiencing pain and stiffness. It then guides them through several questions before generating a description of a probable type of arthritis, and offers them a report they can take to a physician for a correct diagnosis. It offers several short videos demonstrating different types of musculoskeletal exams. It clarifies the different types of arthritis, their qualities and their “red flags”. It allows patients to save past screenings and compare them to future ones, effectively keeping track of symptoms.
In the last four years, I’ve seen several apps emerge in the arthritis community. Apps cannot diagnose our ailments, but they can assist in uncovering the signs to steer us towards a proper opinion from a physician. Creaky Joints, a delightful online support group I have guest blogged for, recently released their own version of an app suitably called Arthritis Power. It’s a fitting title for there is a certain power that comes out of taking control of our own health, especially with a disease that strives to be irrepressible.
I didn’t suspect arthritis when I got sick. The idea that I might have arthritis didn’t even cross my mind, but in the last five years, I have seen a growing awareness as arthritis tries to claw its way out of the shadows. Each app is distinct to its creator, offering different features – some are designed for physicians, some for patients, and some for researchers but they all have the same goal – discover methods to manage and deliver a better quality of life for patients. Apps are designed to help us take control of our own wellbeing, but just like finding the right dance partner it can take some time to find the right fit – and I intend to keep dancing for as long as possible.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.