Objective: To describe the experiences of women who have learned to live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and to explore how women manage this chronic illness and the demands of their everyday lives.
Methods: Thirty women with a diagnosis of RA were interviewed in their homes. The women were encouraged to "tell their story of living with RA," from the first symptom to the present, using a semistructured questionnaire. Qualitative data were analyzed using a constant comparative analytic process.
Results: Learning to live with RA was characterized by periods of uncertainty, of learning about the illness, discovering strategies that allowed the women to meet the expectations of their roles as women, and the establishment of new patterns of daily life. The women became experts at managing their RA and developed a sense of mastery in coping with their symptoms.
Conclusions: Persons with RA need support and guidance, beginning with the onset of the disease, to facilitate achieving mastery in living with this chronic illness.