5 Myths of Rheumatoid Arthritis

by Kim Calhoun on March 8, 2011

It has come to my attention that there are a lot of people who don’t understand what Rheumatoid Arthritis at all. It’s prevalent on TV commercials for certain drugs and most people think that it’s “just arthritis”. I’m here to tell you it’s different…much different.

sad redhead portrait

Myth #1 Rheumatoid Arthritis is just like regular arthritis.

Arthritis from age and wear and tear is osteoarthritis. It is much different that RA. RA is an autoimmune disease. Basically the immune system in the body of an RA patient is fighting its on tissue as if it were a foreign body. It attacks the joints and the soft tissue around the joints and causes inflammation. This eventually leads to joint destruction and disability. So it’s not just the joints, it’s every tendon, ligament and sometimes lungs, chest, and eyes. ¬†Another thing about RA vs. osteoarthritis is that there are other symptoms. Fevers and debilitating fatigue are also present. It’s not just a knee or a shoulder, it hits both sides of the body, nearly every joint in the body. It doesn’t matter if it is a weight- bearing joint or not.

A young woman jogging on a path in a park

Myth #2 Losing weight or exercising more will help get rid of pain.

While losing weight or exercising more might help weight-bearing joints, it will do nothing for pain in the hands and wrists. Also, exercise can be very hard since the pain is so intense in a flare. So the next time you think about telling an RA patient that if they’d just lose weight or exercise more and they would feel better, imagine trying to exercise with knives in every joint while you did it.

Myth #3 Only old people get RA.

Actually, most RA patients are between 30 and 50 at diagnosis. Some are children. Autoimmune diseases in general are more prevalent in women, but men are also affected.

Myth #4 People with RA should look bad.

Most RA patients look on the outside just like non RA patients. You may see the inflammation; you may not. RA patients don’t want to be sick. We want to do what we always did and we try. RA patients usually pay for that when you don’t see them. At night, when they try to sleep and every joint is screaming is what you don’t see. Waking up the next morning and not being able to move out of their bed is what you don’t see. The low grade fever they may run every day of their life, you may not see, but it’s there weighing on them.

Medical syringes.

Myth #5 There’s no hope for RA.

The good news is that the treatment for this disease is better than it ever has been. However, the drugs used to treat it are a bit scary. You just don’t pop Tylenol or Advil for RA. In fact, the drugs you do take for RA can impact your liver so much that it’s better not to take them. The main “cocktail” for RA is made up of 3 drugs; Sulfasalazine, Plaquenil, and Methotrexate. Methotrexate is actually a chemotherapy drug. However, the dosage of Methotrexate is MUCH, MUCH less than a cancer patient would take. The next line of treatment is a set of drugs called biologics. These are the ones with commercials on TV for like Humira and Enbrel. ¬†The good part of these drugs is they usually work to relieve symptoms and stop joint destruction The bad news is they are very expensive and they can have some serious side effects. However, those side effects are rare and most patients take them with no side effects at all. It makes life much better for a ton of RA patients. As doctors learn more about the nature of autoimmune diseases in general the more likely these drugs will continue to help those living with RA. That’s my hope anyway.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor and this post is not meant as medical advice. See your physician if you have questions about your condition and symptoms.
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

inspiraven March 11, 2011 at 10:15 am

Hi.
First, I’d like to say you have a charming website! I look forward to peaking around more.
This is a wonderfully concise piece. Thank you for the clear education from someone who’s had RA for over 30 years.
As you obviously know, sometimes ‘myths’ have sharp edges. Thanks for sanding them down :)

Kim Calhoun March 11, 2011 at 10:34 am

Thanks so much for stopping by. I think that it’s so common that people don’t really realize how dibilitating RA can be.

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