Rheumatoid Arthritis: 8 Top Myths
Separate the myths from the truth about RA.
Myth No. 3: Rheumatoid arthritis isn't all that serious.
Fact: Rheumatoid arthritis can threaten your health and independence, especially if it's inadequately treated.
"A lot of people downplay RA as just 'Grandma's rheumatism,' and they miss the boat completely," says Kremer. "They delay seeing a physician, often for months or years, and a lot of joint damage can happen during that time."
Rheumatoid arthritis needs prompt diagnosis and regular treatment to protect joints from harm. In turn, this can protect your independence and long-term function.
Having rheumatoid arthritis also increases the risk for certain other conditions, says Kremer. “Cardiovascular diseases, infections, and lung disease are all more common in people with RA."
Myth No. 4: Most people with rheumatoid arthritis end up in a wheelchair or nursing home because of the disease.
Fact: Rheumatoid arthritis takes a different course in different people, but most people go on living independently.
Because of its progressive nature, rheumatoid arthritis has caused disability in many people. Much of the available information, though, comes from 20- or 30-year-old studies.
"These were done in another era -- before we started treating early with methotrexate, before we had the new biologic agents," says Kremer. "We have made extraordinary strides in the treatment of this disease. Today, the overwhelming majority of people under treatment for rheumatoid arthritis will do very well" in retaining independence and mobility, he says.
A recent study suggests Kremer is right: 94% of people with rheumatoid arthritis continued to perform all their normal activities independently after 10 years with the disease.
Myth No. 5: Most people with rheumatoid arthritis can't work.
Fact: Work tasks or habits may need to change with rheumatoid arthritis. But the diagnosis doesn't equal a lifetime of disability.
"Again, this myth may have been true in an earlier era, prior to the current treatments," says Kremer. "Certainly many people will need allowances at work, or will have to limit some activities during disease flares. But a large proportion of people with RA go right on working."
In fact, in one large study of people who had had rheumatoid arthritis for more than 10 years, their employment rates were no different than those of similar-age people without RA.