With such a tiny percentage of Americans living with RA, approximately 1.3 million adults according to NIAMS, it is no wonder that the general public knows so little about the disease and believes the many myths floating. So let’s get started dispelling some of the most common myths.
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 due to normal aging or “wear and tear” on the joints as is caused by osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease which is commonly diagnosed in early and middle adulthood, while children are diagnosed with Juvenile RA as young as 6 months through 16 years. In most people who develop RA, the disease starts between the ages of 30 and 55. RA is also an equal opportunity offender affecting men and women of all ages at a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio.
Myth #2: Arthritis is arthritis - It’s all the same thing, right?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares that the word arthritis actually means joint inflammation. The term arthritis is 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 can vary depending on the specific form of the disease. Typically, rheumatic conditions are characterized by pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints. The symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly. Certain rheumatic conditions can also involve the immune system and various internal organs of the body.
Myth #3: In rheumatoid arthritis, swollen joints are alway red and thus easy to diagnose.
Doctors from Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center share that unlike gout or septic arthritis, redness of affected joints is NOT a prominent feature of RA. Personally, this was one mistaken detail which delayed my referral to a rheumatologist prior to diagnosis. Symmetric joint swelling (although not always) is characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis, 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 the bony enlargement seen in osteoarthritis. Pain on passive motion is the most sensitive test for joint inflammation. Occasionally inflamed joints will feel warm to the touch. Inflammation, structural deformity, or both may limit the range of motion of the joint.
Myth #4: You must wait until the pain is severe and your have serious joint problems before starting treatment for your RA.
Do not wait! Doctors often give patients fairly powerful medicines early in the course of the disease, especially if they have a severe case of arthritis. This helps to prevent permanent joint damage by blocking proteins that lead to swelling, inflammation, and associated joint pain. Common drugs to treat the disease include methotrexate, sulfasalazine, Plaquenil, Rituxan, and anti-tumor necrosis factor drugs such as Enbrel, Humira, Remicade. I really appreciate how Lene often summarizes her viewpoint on RA drugs - “better living through chemistry.”