May 20th is observed as World Autoimmune Arthritis Day with the aim to spread awareness about different types of arthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is one of the common autoimmune arthritis, a condition in which the immune cells attack the body leading to inflammation. Popularly known as RA, is a chronic inflammatory disease which mostly affects the small joints in the body.
According to a 2019 study, RA is considered to be the 3rd leading chronic health condition that causes chronic morbidity, severe pain and psychosocial stress. It is characterized by persistent inflammation of the joints of the hands, wrist, knee, and feet. It also caused swelling of joints, pain, impaired mobility and morning stiffness. In some cases, it can even lead to fatigue, weight loss, fever and generalised weakness. Over time, it can cause irreversible damage to the tissue, bone and cartilage causing joint deformity and muscle atrophy.
With any disease comes a plethora of myths and misconceptions which further hasten the treatment process and quality of life.So this rheumatoid awareness day, we are focussing on spreading awareness about rheumatoid arthritis by busting the myths and working on the facts about RA to help a person lead an active life.
Here are the common myths associated with RA:
Myth: RA is a disease that affects mostly the elderly people.
Fact: Most people tend to wrongly assume that rheumatoid arthritis is a part of the normal aging process, just like greying of hair. However, it is not true because RA can affect people at any age. It tends to strike young people during their most active years, generally between 40-60 years of age. In some cases, it is even seen in children and teens.
Myth: RA is similar to any other arthritis.
Fact: RA is different from other types of arthritis such as osteoarthritis (OA). RA is an autoimmune disease whereas OA is caused due to regular wear and tear that occurs with age. An autoimmune disease is a condition in which the body makes antibodies that attack its own tissues resulting in inflammation and damage.
Myth: Inflamed joints in RA need rest so exercise should be avoided.
Fact: One should regularly do exercise including gentle stretching as it helps to relieve the stress and tension in the joints and aid in alleviating the pain and swelling. Taking rest is advised but not being completely inactive. This is because immobility can make your muscles weak which in turn would not be able to keep the joints healthy thus, further worsening your condition.
Myth: People following a healthy lifestyle can help prevent developing RA.
Fact: There is nothing yet known that a person can do to prevent rheumatoid arthritis because it is an autoimmune disease and there is no exact trigger known that can lead to this condition. However, certain factors can up the risk and smoking is the only such culprit that may trigger an immune reaction against the body and also interferes with the effectiveness of RA medication. However, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can go a long way in keeping your joints healthy.
Myth: RA involves only joint pain and damage
Fact: RA generally starts with inflammation of the joints causing pain and damage to joints and related structures (bones and cartilage). But, RA is a systemic disease so it can affect many other parts of the body such as the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys and not just the joints. In fact, it can cause systemic symptoms such as fatigue, weakness and fever as well.
Myth: RA tends to flare occasionally
Fact: There is no set pattern for RA disease to flare. An RA flare may last for days, weeks or months and may vary from person to person. In fact, many people do not experience a flaring and remitting disease pattern, which is seen in cases of other autoimmune conditions such as lupus.
Myth: Avoid bright colored veggies as it aggravates the RA symptoms
Fact: There is no evidence of bright coloured vegetables aggravating RA symptoms or putting you at risk of the condition. In fact, eating a diet rich in antioxidants, which are usually found in dark-colored vegetables and fruits, can help the body fight free radicals and improve your overall well being. As they are full of nutrients, depriving these from your diet can do more harm than good.
Myth: Milk and milk-based products worsens RA symptoms
Fact: Milk and milk products are rich in calcium which is one of the key minerals needed for proper bone development and maintain good bone health. So cutting down milk, cheese, and curd from your diet not only increases the risk of calcium deficiency but also ups your risk of bone problems.
Myth: Stay away from citrus fruits if you have RA
Fact: Cutting citrus fruits from your diet will not improve your RA symptoms because these fruits act as a rich source of Vitamin C, which helps build new cartilage in your joints. So people suffering from RA must include citrus fruits in their diet to keep the bones and joints healthy.
Myth: Omega fatty acids help control inflammation.
Fact: Not all omega acids are good. Only omega 3 fatty acids which you may find in fish oil or in fishes like salmon and tuna fight against joint stiffness and tenderness. Omega-6 fatty acids found mainly in processed foods work opposite to Omega 3 fatty acids.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)
1. Pati S, Sahoo KC, Samal M, Jena S, Mahapatra P, Sutar D, Das BK. Care-seeking pathways, care challenges, and coping experiences of rural women living with rheumatoid arthritis in Odisha, India. Prim Health Care Res Dev. 2019 Jul 30;20:e83.
2. Silman AJ, Pearson JE. Epidemiology and genetics of rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Res. 2002;4 Suppl 3:S265-72. Epub 2002 May 9.
3. Rudan I, Sidhu S, Papana A, et al; Global Health Epidemiology Reference Group (GHERG). Prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review and analysis. J Glob Health. 2015 Jun;5(1):010409.
4. Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. National Institutes of Health (NIH).