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Rheumatoid Arthritis: 8 Top Myths

Separate the myths from the truth about RA.

Myth No. 7: Most people with rheumatoid arthritis get cancer, too. continued...

"Some of this increased incidence may be due to the increased inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, and some may actually be due to the medications," says Kremer. "Nevertheless, most people with rheumatoid arthritis do not get cancer."

Methotrexate, the new biologics, or both may partially contribute to this increased risk. Nevertheless, rheumatologists stand behind the medicines. "You have to weigh the risks and the benefits," suggests Kremer. Untreated rheumatoid arthritis is frequently devastating, while lymphoma is uncommon, often slowly progressing, and treatable, he adds.

On the bright side: the risk of colorectal cancer is actually reduced by up to 40% in people with rheumatoid arthritis. One theory argues that the frequent use of anti-inflammatory medicines called NSAIDs (including aspirin, motrin, and ibuprofen) by rheumatoid arthritis patients helps to prevent cancer in the colon.

Myth No. 8: Painful, stiff joints from rheumatoid arthritis need to rest most of the day.

Fact: On the contrary; joints affected by RA need stretching and exercise.

"We want to keep these people mobile with medications and with encouraging exercise and physical activity," advises Kremer. Sometimes rest is necessary, but "most people with rheumatoid arthritis should be moving and exercising more, not less."

Immobility can be counterproductive for someone with rheumatoid arthritis. When joints are painful and stiff, it's natural to want to avoid movement. However, immobility sets up a vicious cycle. The muscles around a joint contribute a large part of the joint's strength and stability. All muscles need regular activity to stay healthy -- use it or lose it.

Everyone with rheumatoid arthritis can perform some kind of exercise.

  • Stretching exercises require minimal exertion and help keep joints flexible.
  • Low-impact aerobic exercise improves joint health, as well as overall mental and physical health.
  • High-impact exercise, in general, should be avoided.
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Reviewed on April 13, 2012
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