SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Cracking the myths

FROM ancient times, arthritis has been a mystery. There are a number of misconceptions and myths. Some are based on science and the others on beliefs. When it comes to science, how do we determine what is the truth and what is myth? The answer is to separate science from superstition and to ask the doctor, something which this article aims to do.

Myth: Arthritis occurs only in the elderly.

Fact: Arthritis occurs in all age groups. The arthritic diseases seen in children are rheumatic fever and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Myth: Arthritis is seen only in areas where the climate is very cold.

Fact: Arthritic diseases are seen in both temperate and tropical regions. There is no scientific evidence to establish that cold climate causes arthritis. It may worsen the symptoms of an arthritic patient. There is no need for an arthritic patient to shift from a cold geographical area to a hot one. Arthritic patients can continue to live in a cold climate with protective clothing like woollen gloves, socks and indoor heaters.

Myth: The cause for arthritis is aging.

Fact: There are many causes for arthritis, such as infection, disturbances in the body's defence system (immune system), genetics and defects in metabolism. The process of aging contributes to the occurrence of an arthritic disease called osteoarthritis which is seen predominantly in the elderly.

Myth: There is only one type of arthritis.

Fact: There are nearly 160 types of arthritis.

Myth: Knuckle cracking will cause arthritis.

Fact: There is no scientific evidence to support this. But repeated knuckle cracking is a strain on the ligaments and joints of your fingers. It is better this habit is stopped.

Myth: Eating tubers will cause or worsen arthritis.

Fact: Patients with arthritis can eat tubers. There is no scientific evidence to prove that tubers after ingestion cause intestinal gas which leads to a worsening of arthritic symptoms.

Myth: If you have arthritis your children will get arthritis.

Fact: All arthritic diseases are not hereditary. In certain diseases there is a genetic predisposition, as in rheumatoid arthritis. Even in this disease, only a miniscule percentage of the offspring develop the disease when the parents have rheumatoid arthritis.

Myth: The arthritic patient should never do exercises.

Fact: All patients with arthritis should go through a regular exercise programme. The advantages are that exercises maintain the range of joint movements, prevent joint deformities, maintain muscle strength and improve a sense of well being. A patient with arthritis should strike a balance between rest and physical activity.

Myth: If you have arthritis you will become wheel chair bound.

Fact: There are nearly 160 types of arthritis. If these diseases are identified early and treated properly, the patient can lead a normal independent life.

Myth: There are special diets for curing arthritis.

Fact: There is no special diet for curing arthritis. The best diet for an arthritic patient is a well balanced nutritious diet. Also, he should maintain ideal body weight since excess weight puts more strain on the weight bearing joints and makes the disease worse. Except for the rare patient with a specific food allergy that may aggravate his joint symptoms, there is no proven scientific connection between a particular food source and arthritis.

Patients with gout should avoid high quality protein foods like non-vegetarian food and soya. The concept of an "arthritis diet" has not seen the light of day.

Myth: Children with arthritis are cured when they grow into adults.

Fact: Children with the disease called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis may continue to have the disease even when they become adults.

Myth: Arthritis affects only women.

Fact: Both men and women are affected by these diseases. Certain diseases like rheumatoid arthritis occur more predominantly in women. Certain diseases like gout and ankylosing spondylitis are seen more frequently in men.

Myth: There is no connection between the mind and arthritis.

Fact: There is a definite relationship between the psyche and the soma (mind and the body). Certain arthritic dieases are either precipitated or become worse when there is mental disharmony.

Myth: Nothing can be done to treat arthritis.

Fact: There are nearly 160 types of arthritis and each disease can be treated scientifically. Today the ill-effects of all arthritic disorders can be minimised through early diagnosis, appropriate drug treatment, regular physiotherapy and life style modification.

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