Arthritis misconceptions: Separating fact, fiction
Separating Arthritis Facts From Fiction
Here's the truth behind some big misconceptions surrounding arthritis.
By Marie Suszynski
Medically Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
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Heard that arthritis can only strike in old age? Or that cracking your knuckles is a sure way to end up with osteoarthritis? Hang on — you may be surprised to learn that some of the "facts" we associate with arthritis aren’t necessarily true. The following are some of the most common myths about arthritis and the truth that lies beneath.
Myth 1: Arthritis Only Happens to the Elderly.
False.It’s true that as you age, the prevalence of both inflammatory arthritis (when your joints become swollen and warm as a result of inflammation) and osteoarthritis (when the cartilage and bone wear away as a result of an injury or over time) goes up, says Robert H. Carter, MD, deputy director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
But that doesn’t mean arthritis only affects older folks. In fact, nearly 60 percent of people diagnosed with arthritis are under age 65. Inflammatory arthritis, which occurs because of a genetic predisposition (it runs in your family), typically begins early in life and gets worse as you age, Dr. Carter says. For many people, rheumatoid arthritis begins between the ages of 30 and 50, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Osteoarthritis can also start early and progress more quickly if you experience a sports injury, Carter says. It’s most common in middle age, the Arthritis Foundation says, occurring most often after age 45.
Myth 2: Cracking Your Knuckles Causes Arthritis.
False.Good news for knuckle-crackers — the pop you hear when you crack a knuckle doesn’t mean you’re putting wear and tear on those joints, Carter says. When you bend your finger to crack your knuckle, you put pressure on the fluid between your bones, and that releases a gas. “That’s what you hear: pop,” he says. Doing it won’t lead to arthritis, so you’re safe to crack away.
Myth 3: Arthritis Is Triggered by a Cold, Wet Climate.
There’s no evidence that says it does.Studies that have looked at this phenomenon haven’t shown that cold or wet weather brings on arthritis, Carter says. But he hasn’t ruled it out, either. “I hear this from a lot of patients who say it with very strong conviction,” he says. “Back when we didn’t have treatments, people often moved to a warmer climate, like Arizona, and presumably felt better.” In fact, reactions to weather changes seem to vary from person to person, according to researchers in Norway who reviewed a number of studies of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. They found that although there was no consistent link between RA pain and temperature, humidity, or atmospheric pressure, some patients still reported discomfort.
Myth 4: There’s a Cure for Arthritis.
False, but doctors may be close.“The short answer is no, but in some cases of inflammatory arthritis, we’re doing much better,” Carter says. Twenty years ago, when there weren’t many medications to treat these severe forms of arthritis, many patients went on to have deformities, he says.
Today, scientists have learned about the molecules that are involved in inflammatory diseases like arthritis and have developed ways to fight those molecules with medications. “It has substantially changed the outcome of arthritis,” Carter says. It’s an area that’s actively under study right now, and whether people can be cured by being aggressively treated with the newer drugs is under debate. “If you use [magnetic resonance] imaging (MRI) or other specialized ways of looking at these patients, you’ll still see some disease present, even though the symptoms are improved,” Carter says.
Scientists are also looking into whether people with arthritis continue to have improved symptoms after they stop taking medication. “In any trial, about 10 percent of patients will get entirely better and stay that way,” Carter says. Doctors hope that getting patients into a rheumatologist’s office for aggressive treatment may lead to effectively curing them of the disease.
Video: Rheumatoid Arthritis | Myths & Facts of RA | Third Age
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