Megan Park Talks Rheumatoid Arthritis

Megan Park raising rheumatoid arthritis awareness with educational campaign

Megan Park is using her celebrity to raise awareness about a condition that's sometimes — and mistakenly — associated only with older people.

Known primarily for her former role as Grace Bowman on ABC's "The Secret Life of an American Teenager," the 26-year-old was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) when she was a child. Now, she's opening up about her experience with the chronic inflammatory disorder.

"I had all the classic symptoms: extreme joint swelling, different pain, the inability to do certain things that everyone else could," Park told People Magazine, regarding her early experience with the condition. "That's when I knew that something wasn't right."

Working with an educational campaign cleverly titled Joint Decisions, Park is spreading the word about RA and its potential to affect anyone.

"It's empowering people who live with RA to share in the healthcare decisions that are going to impact their life and their overall well-being," Park said.

In some respects, Park is an ideal spokesperson for RA. She instantly overturns common misconceptions that the condition only affects those of a certain age.

"Rheumatoid arthritis can affect anybody at any age," Park said. "Usually when I tell people, they're like, 'Oh right, I think my grandma has that.' They only really associate it with the elderly. There's a lot of people like me with arthritis."

The cause of RA remains unknown, and there's no cure for the disorder. Conditions of its ilk aren't at all rare, though. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 52.5 million adults in the US have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus or fibromyalgia.

RA happens when the immune system begins attacking body tissues. Beyond its well-known joint complications, RA can also affect other organs like the skin, eyes, lungs and blood vessels. In Park's case, surgery was once required to repair joint damage in her knee.

Though there's no cure, treatments and drugs do exist. And according to Park, sometimes the symptoms are worse than others.

"Sometimes you need to do a lot, and other times it's very easy and very minimal management," Park explained. "It's a disease that stays with you for life, so you sort of have to learn how to manage it on a daily basis, and that can mean various degrees of how bad it is."

So far, Park appears to have managed pretty well — maintaining a busy career in spite of her early bout with the disorder. More importantly, she's helping others manage, too.