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5 Myths About Rheumatoid Arthritis

Medically reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, FACP on November 17, 2016Written by Mary Baucom on November 17, 2016
Rheumatoid Arthritis

Having rheumatoid arthritis is challenging enough, let alone the misinformation that’s thrown at you. Because no matter how long you’ve been living with this autoimmune disease, there’s always new information — or misinformation — that you come across online or from unreliable sources.

We’re here to dispel these fabrications once and for all. Here are five myths about RA that you should really just ignore.

1. Having RA is just a sign that you’re aging.

If this was true, then nearly every baby boomer in the United States would have RA. That would be more than 76 million people! While 1.5 million people is nothing to shy away from, it’s far less than every older adult.  

Anyone can get RA, including children, teens, and young adults. However, women are two to three times likely to be diagnosed than men. There’s no one cause or trigger of RA, but researchers think it has something to do with an abnormal response of the immune system.

2. You should focus on light exercises and cardio.

Exercising is an important part of your RA treatment. But while many doctors may ask you to focus on low-impact exercises, you can do other more intense exercises too. Research suggests that incorporating high-intensity exercises can be helpful. One study found that a short-term intensive exercise program was actually more effective in building muscle than a more conservative program. Of course, it’s wise to discuss these exercises with your doctor. Don’t push yourself too hard, and always listen to your body.

3. RA only affects your joints.

More often than not, the first symptoms of RA are joint pain and swelling. But once your condition progresses, RA can affect other parts of your body. Inflammation can spread to the lungs, heart, eyes, and blood vessels. Many people with RA also develop anemia, a condition marked by a decrease in production of red blood cells. Besides the physical impact, RA also affects people emotionally. Depression, low self-esteem, and feelings of weakness and helplessness are all common side effects. Fatigue is also quite common, especially because the pain associated with RA can make it difficult to fall or stay asleep.

4. Stop eating, and your symptoms will go away.

Eating is a way of nourishing the body, providing it with energy and fuel. In today’s weight-conscious world, there’s an abundance of information on the benefits of fasting. However, there’s no concrete proof that fasting will cure RA. Some foods can aggravate your symptoms or trigger a flare-up, especially inflammatory foods like fried and greasy foods, processed sugars, and refined carbs. An elimination diet may help you narrow down potential triggers. But it’s never a good idea to cut back on something entirely without talking to your doctor first. And fasting for long periods of time can be dangerous and lead to dehydration and nutrition deficiency.

5. There’s nothing you can do once you have RA.

This is probably the biggest myth of them all! While living with an unpredictable autoimmune disease like RA isn’t easy, it doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. Advanced treatments, therapies, and lifestyle modifications can make the difference in your RA journey. Targeted therapy with disease-modifying biologics, for example, can help slow down the progression of the disease. Physical and occupational therapy can help reduce your pain and swelling.

Talk to your doctor about specific treatment options for you, and speak up if you think your current treatment is no longer working. You can also ask about devices that will make your day-to-day tasks a little simpler. Installing grab bars in your shower or tub can make bathing easier, while an automatic can opener can make opening up a can of soup a breeze. From your medications to your lifestyle choices, there are things you can do right now to feel better — and live better — with your RA. 

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