The Challenges of Traveling with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) [transcript] [audio]

Guest: Dr. Grace Wright  & Maria

Presenter: Neal Howard

Guest Bio:    

Dr. Grace Wright

Dr. Wright is a rheumatologist who has been practicing rheumatology for more than 20 years. She currently practices as an independent private rheumatologist in her own clinical practice, Grace C Wright MD PC. She is also an Attending Physician at NYU Langone and Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at NYU Langone School of Medicine in New York, New York. She is a founding member of and president of the Association of Women in Rheumatology, an organization for women dedicated to promoting the science and practice of rheumatology and advocating access to the highest quality health care and management of patients with rheumatic diseases. She is also a certified fellow and member of the American College of Rheumatology.  She is the recipient of several awards, including the Helen R. Downes Award for academic distinction, and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Alpha Omega Alpha honor medical society. She received her medical and doctorate degrees from NYU School of Medicine where she also conducted her residency in internal medicine.   


María arrived in the United States with the dream of building a better life for herself and her three young daughters. To do this, María launched a successful cheese factory. When she was 35 years old, María began experiencing extreme fatigue, which she at first blamed on her grueling entrepreneurial schedule. After her doctor ordered a blood test, she received the diagnosis of RA. Undaunted, she continued to grow her business and raising her girls, oftentimes having to resort to supervising manufacturing from a wheelchair because the pain in her legs and feet had become unbearable.

Segment Overview: Dr. Grace Wright and Maria, a person living with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), talk about ways to help manage travel triggers.


Neal Howard: Welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard. Well, summer is just around the corner bringing opportunities to travel for both business and pleasure. But hitting the road might bring on some aches and pains especially if you suffer with rheumatoid arthritis. Here to talk about some ways to manage your travel triggers if you’re a sufferer of RA are Dr. Grace Wright and Maria, a patient dealing with RA. Welcome to the program both Dr. Wright and Maria. Thank you both for joining us today.

Maria: Thank you.

Dr. Grace Wright: Thank you.

N: Dr. Wright, what is RA, rheumatoid arthritis and how many of us are affected by it?

W: So Rheumatoid Arthritis or RA as we refer to it is a chronic inflammatory often disabling arthritis that can affect both young and old, male and female. We have 1.3 million Americans living with RA and about two-thirds to three-quarters of those are women. So we have a four year old children, but the majority are somewhere between 20 and 50 years of age, so really impacting everyone where you experience fatigue, swelling and stiffness through multiple joints. It really does impact everything that you do.

N: And would you say it’s the most common form of arthritis?

W: Well, osteoarthritis is probably more common than rheumatoid arthritis but it is the most common inflammatory arthritis to distinguish the two types.

N: So I guess dealing or affecting everything that you do, travel would be a biggie, I mean just traveling from one room to the other can be a demand, let alone traveling from one location to another. Maria, you’ve been dealing with RA. How long now?

M: Thirty four years.

N: And during those 34 years, you’ve not been stationary. You’ve been traveling to various places. How do you manage your condition when you’re traveling from one place to another especially places that may not be familiar to you?

M: I love to travel and not refuse to stay at home. I am retired now. I used to be in business and I have to deal with that, the RA, but I did it anyway. Now I’m retired and not traveling more for pleasure. It is challenging. I have a physical limitation. I no longer travel by myself, a member of my family always travels with me, so he can assist me with my luggage but I always take my scooter. I have a scooter that I take with me and I move through the airport with no problem. It gives me a lot of freedom. I can check it at the gate and get it at the gate when I arrive to my destination. Also another challenge is, I get a lot of discomfort on my seat while traveling. So after takeoff, if I’m traveling by plane, I get up and walk, that helps. That relieves the discomfort on my feet and I also carry some lotion with me, so I can massage my feet, that helps too. If I travel by car, every two hours, I get out of the car and walk a little bit so it can relieve the stiffness, and the swelling and discomfort.

N: So it sounds like there’s a lot of environmental factors that you are dealing with that you have to overcome. In addition to, I’m supposing some of the medications that you may or may not have to take. Dr. Wright, what types of treatments medication wise are available for folks suffering with RA such as Maria?

W: Well fortunately, we have many treatment options available today that can be used singly or in combination. And so I’m here today speaking on behalf of Sanofi Regeneron but you know, that we have tablets and capsules that can be taken by mouth. We also have agents called, “Biologics” that can be given as injections, so the patients can inject themselves at home and keep their medications at home. There are other injections given in the office and there are also intravenous infusions that can be given in the doctor’s office or at the hospital that really target the disease, target the various inflammatory chemicals within the body that are driving this disease to try and get this into remission or to the lowest level of disease activity possible, so that patients can enter back into their lives and do things like travel, or work or take care of family. We sort of come out of this, state of falling and stiffness that can occur with this chronic disease.

N: Listening to Maria talk about encountering the airport with a scooter and things of that nature and even talking about after takeoff, managing some of her pain in those ways. From a medical standpoint, traveling by air, is it greatly different being pressurized and whatnot as opposed to traveling on the ground or even on a cruise?

W: Well, things that you have to think about with air travel is we forget to drink. We don’t get quite the same amount of hydration that we need and it’s very important to stay well hydrated. The other issue is that you’re stuck in this small seat and for patients who have problems with their neck because RA can affect the neck or it can affect the hips, and the knees and the feet. You end up sort of clamped and stiff and that alone can cause a significant amount of discomfort. On a cruise, or in a car, or a train, you have a little bit more room and you’re able to flex those muscles and move about. So on a plane, it’s important to really move whether it means sort of squirming in your seat, exercising in your seat or getting up and taking a walk down the aisle as you hydrate. That is really crucial for air travel.

N: Maria, in 35 years of traveling and dealing with RA, would you say that your environment and dealing with your environment is more of a relief or management strategy than medications, biologic or otherwise, would you say it’s kind of a 50/50?

M: It’s a combination … with RA. There were no treatments that work, that are great, that are good. But now, there’s several different treatments and it is better. In traveling, the easiest for me is by a cruise. Taking a cruise is easier for me than flying or driving. But through the years, I learned how to deal with this and to enjoy traveling.

N: Dr. Wright, where can our listeners go and get some more information online about RA and managing some of the pain especially during travel?

W: So there are many useful websites. So what I am going to direct you to is where you can find useful insights and tips for living with and traveling with RA.

N: Great. I thank you both for joining us here on Health Professional Radio today Dr. Grace Wright and Maria. It’s been a pleasure.

W: Thank you.

M: Thank you.

N: You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard. Transcripts and audio of this program are available at and also at You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, listen in and download at SoundCloud and be sure and visit our affiliates page at and also at

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