"It was difficult as I felt quite isolated" 

When we think of arthritis, we normally think of old age. But the disease can strike young people too. Kate Llewelyn, 34, first noticed her symptoms when she was just 13.

"The soles of my feet became very painful," she recalls. "I went to the doctor. He wasn't my usual GP, and he just told me to buy new shoes! I did, but they didn't help. A month later two of my fingers swelled up and became very painful. I went back and saw my regular doctor, who diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis."

Kate was put on to anti-inflammatory drugs and also had to take 12 soluble aspirins a day. "I still hate the taste!" she says. She had hydrotherapy sessions three times a week, which helped the pain. However, at 14, she had to take a year off school as the pain got worse.

"Every joint in my body would ache, apart from my hips, which luckily have never been affected," she says. "It was difficult as I felt quite isolated. I had home tuition, but I lost contact with lots of friends."

However, Kate refused to let the disease beat her. She gained good GCSEs and A-levels, then went to university. "All my tutors were very supportive," she says. "Of course, the arthritis did affect my social life. I couldn't be spontaneous as I always had to plan how I'd get home from somewhere and I couldn't walk very far." Following university, she got a job with Arthritis Care and now edits the charity's magazine.

Kate has a very aggressive form of rheumatoid arthritis, and so far has had an elbow and a knee replacement. In the past, she's tried several drugs, including methotrexate and gold injections. She's currently on anti-TNF, a new arthritis drug designed to stop the disease progressing, which she says is working well.

She's under no illusions about the severity of her illness. "Sometimes, when the pain is bad, I think: 'is this the next stage?' I know I'll need more operations in the future, but I try to stay positive. It can be hard. It's not obvious that I've got arthritis and I've been shouted at for parking in disabled spaces! But I try not to get angry because I know people are just ignorant."

Kate has learned to live with the illness. "I have to watch my energy levels. If I know that, for example, I'm going to a wedding, I'll do absolutely nothing the day before because I know it will wipe me out and I'll be fit for nothing the day after. I also have to be ruthlessly practical in every aspect of my life. For example, if I have a work meeting I always try and get people to come to me."

She urges anyone with arthritis to learn about their condition. "Get in touch with Arthritis Care and you'll get all the information you need," she says. "You'll also find support and help with what can be a very isolating condition."

Page last reviewed: 19/01/2016

Next review due: 01/11/2018