Lancaster University student left bed-bound by arthritis highlighting the condition in young people

A 20-year-old student left bed-bound in agony is probably the last thing you'd see when you think of arthritis.
Lancaster University student Chloe Umpleby suffers from juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).Lancaster University student Chloe Umpleby suffers from juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).
Lancaster University student Chloe Umpleby suffers from juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).

But for Lancaster University student Chloe Umpleby, life couldn't be further from wild parties or round-the-world back-packing.

That's because Chloe, originally from Teesside, suffers from juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and is sometimes left in so much pain that she cannot even leave the house.

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The condition is the inflammation (swelling) of one or more of your joints and first occurs before your 16th birthday. Symptoms can include: painful, swollen or stiff joints; increased tiredness; a recurring fever; and a limp but no injury.

Chloe, who is supporting a campaign by charity Versus Arthritis to help raise awareness of the condition in young people, said: "It's like a dull ache that never goes away and there's nothing I can do to get rid of it.

"But on bad days, I'm basically bed-bound.

"I can't walk far enough to leave the house; I have to hold on to a sideboard or lean on a chair because I feel so weak.

"I don't know when a flare-up is coming. The night before I might feel completely fine and then I wake up and feel it straightaway. I get this overwhelming feeling of dread because I never know how bad it's going to get.

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"It started in my left foot and knee but has since spread and affects me all over my body. I get joint pain, aches, stiffness, cramps and really bad fatigue, which I feel everywhere. My body can't produce enough energy so I feel like I can't move. It's frustrating because mentally I want to do things."

The third-year history student added: "I've missed out on a traditional university student life because my body can't cope with it. One night out can make me bed-bound for days."

Her mum first realised something was wrong when Chloe was a baby, as she struggled to learn to walk, despite her eagerness.

But her GP disregarded her concerns and claimed she was being a "neurotic mother" and that her child was simply "slow".

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"But my whole family knew something was wrong. The doctor told my mum she's just overbearing. It was very invalidating. It's awful," Chloe said.

Her mum persisted, even taking her to A&E numerous times with ear infections, which can be an early sign of arthritis.

They finally felt heard when they switched to another GP, who referred Chloe to a specialist. She was then diagnosed with arthritis at just 18-months-old.

But her troubles were far from over, as she developed inflammation in her right eye at eight-years-old and began taking two types of medication, including one used in cancer patients, as well as steroid injections every couple of years.

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Unfortunately, she didn't begin taking anti-inflammatory medication until she was 16 - which meant eight years of feeling like she'd been "punched in the face". Numerous flare-ups have also caused permanent vision damage.

"My illness is very unpredictable. I can be OK one day and then I'll have a bad period that affects my whole life," Chloe said.

"When I was seven, I got out of bed and collapsed. I couldn't walk.

"I get sharp pains in my wrist on a bad day and I can't do anything. I can't even lift a kettle to make a cup of tea."

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Being unable to lead a normal student life has left her with depression and general anxiety disorder, which were diagnosed last March.

"I'm a very independent person but my mental health has been an ongoing struggle," she said.

"I have a lot of anxiety about my health and I'm on antidepressants and have had therapy.

"Depression crept in in the last year or so as my condition worsened. I've struggled with anxiety since I was about 13 or 14 but didn't realise at the time because I wasn't having panic attacks.

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"But as I got older, I realised how ill I could get, and with university stress on top of that, my anxiety has just snowballed."

Chloe falls into the high-risk group during the pandemic, so while she is used to being regularly confined to her house for long periods, she worries about how vulnerable she is.

But she says many people with arthritis are in an even worse position right now.

"Thousands of people wait three months for joint replacement surgery. That's now increased because of the pandemic," she said.

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"I can't imagine what they're going through. They must be experiencing excruciating pain every day."

In fact, some people even wait up to two years for an operation, according to Versus Arthritis.

Despite the devastating impact of the chronic illness, it is often dismissed in young people, even by the medical world.

That is why Chloe is supporting the charity's It’s Not Alright, It’s Arthritis campaign to help dispel the myth that the condition only causes a bit of pain and is a normal part of aging.

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She said: "When you think of it, you think of elderly people. People said to me, 'you can't have it, you're too young.'

"Plus, chronic illness is not always visible. People look at me and think I'm a healthy young woman.

"In a past relationship, I was called 'lazy' because I was tired all the time. That comment really hurt. It was invalidating, as I'm physically incapable of doing everything other people can do.

"I had other comments growing up, which made me close off from people. I didn't talk about my condition outside of my best friends and family.

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"That's the danger. People don't know the power behind their words. It could stop someone from seeking help. But if you know something is wrong with your body, you should reach out."

Since starting university, however, Chloe has started to open up to others and says the friends she has made there are understanding about her circumstances.

She has even found other ways to get involved in university life, such as joining the Disney Society and setting up her own gin-appreciation group with friends.

After graduating, she plans to move to London to study for a masters degree and dreams of moving to a big city and travelling the world, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

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"I'm a very stubborn person and I always tried to be a normal kid but now I've just accepted my situation and the fact that I need to rest," she said.

And it seems it's only made her stronger - and more determined to help others.

She added: "I never thought I'd be able to speak out but now I'd love to take my campaigning further and encourage Government support for sufferers.

"My dream is to go to the Houses of Parliament and tell them what they need to do to help people like me."

For more information about the condition, visit