When someone is first confronted with the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, it can be one of the most confusing and challenging times of your life. The news of having to live with a disease characterized by chronic pain, as well as the myriad of other symptoms associated with RA, is overwhelming.
Trying to sort through all of the information about rheumatoid arthritis and ascertain what is true, what is false, what is relevant, and what is not, can be a task not easily undertaken. It is, nonetheless, critical to successfully managing RA that you separate fact from fiction and myth from reality. For me, heading to my computer and the local library was a lifesaver when I was first diagnosed 18 years ago. I felt that I needed to learn all I could about RA before I made any decisions, and I wish I had known of the many myths that surround this disease. So, that said, I am going to share some here.
Myth 1: Rheumatoid arthritis is the same as osteoarthritis.
It is not, yet nearly everyone we encounter will likely think it is. So this may well be one of the first myths we have to handle. It will likely persist throughout your life as each person you meet and share your diagnosis with will need to be informed, so it is up to us to correct that misconception or simply move on.
Rheumatoid arthritis is not the same as osteoarthritis. RA can affect people of any age, while OA generally affects people over age 40. RA can affect your whole body, while OA mostly affects your joints. These are just two ways they are very different.
Myth 2: RA affects everyone the same way.
This is so not true. In all of my years of meeting folks with RA, and I would guess that number exceeds a thousand, no two people have had the same exact experience.
From symptoms, to treatments, to how you cope, to how the disease manifests, the differences are countless. To suggest otherwise ignores one of the most challenging aspects of rheumatoid arthritis, and that is the total lack of regularity and predictability with this disease.
Myth 3: You don't “look” sick, so RA must not be that bad of a disease.
Just because you may not appear to be sick or in pain does not mean that you are not. RA often is a “hidden” disease, with chronic pain and fatigue, even when we look just fine.
Myth 4: You should wait until you have an X-ray to prove joint erosion before starting treatment.
Studies have shown that early treatment not only slows joint damage, but can, in some cases, help stop the damage from continuing.
Myth 5: Exercise is not good for you if you have RA, or exercise will totally relieve symptoms.
Exercise and movement are critical to maintaining muscle tone and range of motion in our joints, and may help to relieve the depression that often accompanies a chronic disease like rheumatoid arthritis. I prefer swimming and any form of aquatic exercise, as they are joint neutral and actually relieve pain for me.
Myth 6: Living in a hot, dry climate and/or diet can cure your RA.
According to some experts, neither climate nor diet can effectively change your RA.
Myth 7: RA symptoms are not treatable, and the disease will eventually lead to disability.
There are more options available today than ever before to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The good news is that some may slow and/or help stop joint damage, thus delaying or preventing further disability and relieving many of the symptoms of RA, including pain, swelling, inflammation and fatigue.
Myth 8: You can handle this on your own.
I saved this one for last because in my mind this may be the single most important one to dispel. Do not for one moment think that “toughing it out” on your own is the right approach. It is not. Working with your physician and a team of experts is the key to managing RA and ensuring that you make the right medical decisions for you.
By dispelling and understanding the myths surrounding rheumatoid arthritis, we separate fact from fiction and better manage RA.