Top RA Myths and Misconceptions
With such a tiny percentage of Americans living with RA, approximately 1.5 million people or about 0.6 percent of the US adult population, it is no wonder that the general public knows so little about the disease. Here are some of the most popular myths people have regarding RA.
Myths and Misconceptions
Myth #1: Arthritis is only for OLD people.
Hey, I’m not old and I definitely have arthritis... rheumatoid arthritis, that is. Some days I might feel ancient, but this is not the same as osteoarthritis which is due to normal aging or “wear and tear” on the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune, inflammatory disease that is commonly diagnosed in early- to mid-adulthood, while children can be diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) as young as 6 months through 16 years of age. In most people who develop RA, the disease starts between the ages of 30 and 55. RA affects approximately two to three times as many women as men.
Myth #2: Arthritis is arthritis - It’s all the same thing, right?
The word arthritis means joint inflammation, but the term is generally used to describe more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues which surround the joint, and other connective tissue. The pattern, severity and location of symptoms vary depending upon each specific disease. Rheumatic conditions are typically characterized by pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints with symptoms that develop gradually or may appear suddenly.
Myth #3: In rheumatoid arthritis, swollen joints are always red and thus easy to diagnose.
Unlike gout or septic arthritis, redness of joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis is NOT a prominent feature of the disease. Symmetric joint swelling is characteristic of RA, often in the fingers, knuckles, wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, and toes. Careful palpation of the joints helps to distinguish the swelling of joint inflammation from bony enlargement seen in osteoarthritis. Pain on passive motion is the most sensitive test for joint inflammation. Occasionally, inflamed joints may feel warm to the touch, and inflammation, structural deformity, or both may limit range of motion.
Myth #4: You must wait until the pain is severe or you have serious joint problems before starting treatment.
Do not wait! Many doctors no longer take a wait-and-see approach to treating RA. It is important to begin aggressive treatment early in the course of the disease to protect yourself against the harmful effects of damaging inflammation. Common drugs used to modify the disease include methotrexate, sulfasalazine, Plaquenil, Rituxan, Orencia, Xeljanz, Arava, Actemra, and anti-tumor necrosis factor drugs such as Enbrel, Humira, Remicade, Simponi, and Cimzia.
Myth #5: All I have to worry about with RA are my joints; it doesn’t affect my health otherwise.
Wrong!! Rheumatoid arthritis can cause serious damage to parts of the body beyond the joints, including internal organs. RA has been associated with cardiovascular disease, heart failure, lung disease, eye disorders, fibromyalgia, depression, and more. In addition to damage caused by inflammation, patients with RA and their rheumatologists should be mindful of possible complications (such as anemia or kidney and liver problems) which may be caused by the medications we use.
Myth #6: Painful, stiff joints from rheumatoid arthritis need to be rested most of the time and exercise is a no-no when you have RA.
Although rest is necessary during an RA flare, joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis need motion, stretching and exercise. Immobility can be counterproductive for someone with RA. When joints are painful and stiff, it's natural to want to avoid movement; however, immobility sets up a vicious cycle. The muscles surrounding a joint contribute to the joint's strength and stability. All muscles need regular activity to stay healthy and research has shown that following an exercise program can decrease pain by keeping joints and cartilage healthy. Exercise can also help to reduce symptoms of depression which are common among people with progressive diseases like RA. Talk to your physician about the best exercise regimen for you.
Myth #7: Arthritis is caused by poor diet or chemical substances such as aspartame.
There are no proven connections between consuming particular foods and the development of arthritis. If certain foods seem to aggravate your symptoms, it may be helpful to avoid them. Otherwise a nutritious, well-balanced diet low in calories and saturated fats, rich in ‘good’ fats found in fish, olive oil, and nuts, and complete with vegetables, fruits and whole grains improve the health and well-being of those living with or without arthritis. Research suggests that carotenoids (found in orange and yellow vegetables and fruits) and cruciferous vegetables (the broccoli and cabbage family) may be particularly effective at protecting joints. Maintaining an idea body weight is especially important for people with arthritis, as excess pounds put additional stress on your joints.
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?