Do You Have Arthritis?
Here is the Latest on What Experts Know -- and Don't Yet Know
© 2023 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Arthritis, the leading cause of disability in the United States, manifests in more than 100 different forms, the most common being osteoarthritis, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
It's estimated that this painful disease affects one in five Americans, or a total of 46 million people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As the population ages, these numbers are expected to keep rising. By 2030, experts believe 67 million people will have arthritis.
Arthritis is Not an "Old-Age" Disease
Though arthritis is more common in older people (and women), nearly two-thirds of people with arthritis are younger than 65. Arthritis can affect young adults, 20-somethings and middle-aged people. Even children can be affected; over 300,000 children have some form of juvenile arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Because it affects such a wide group of people, and can cause debilitating symptoms, arthritis is fast becoming one of the nation's leading public health problems. According to the CDC:
What Exactly IS Arthritis?
Close to 19 million U.S. adults said their activities were limited by arthritis from 2003 to 2005.
More than 5 percent of the U .S. population has work limitations because of arthritis.
More than 30 percent of people with arthritis report work limitations due to the disease.
Arthritis results in 750,000 hospitalizations and 36 million out-patient visits every year.
Medical costs directly related to arthritis reached $81 billion in 2003, with total costs reaching $128 billion.
These numbers above have greatly increased and could double by 2018 as the baby-boomers more and more come of age for the highest levels of arthritis.
Each of the 100-plus forms of arthritis is unique in its exact cause and symptoms, but there is a commonality. Arthritis means "joint inflammation," and all arthritic conditions affect the musculoskeletal system and, in particular, the joints (where two or more bones meet).
In people with arthritis, the joints can become painful, stiff and inflamed, and joint cartilage and surrounding structures can become damaged. This can lead to weakness in the joints, instability and deformities that can make daily tasks -- from walking to cutting your food or typing on a computer -- very difficult.
Some forms of arthritis do not stop at the joints, however. Systemic arthritic conditions can affect your entire body and cause damage to any organ or bodily system, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, blood vessels and skin.
Here is breakdown of the most common type of arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation:
Osteoarthritis: This is a degenerative joint disease in which the cartilage that covers the ends of bones in the joint deteriorates, leading to pain and loss of movement because bone begins to rub against bone. (This is the most common form of arthritis in the United States).
Rheumatoid arthritis: This is an autoimmune disease in which the joint lining becomes inflamed due to the body's immune system activity. (This is one of the most debilitating types and appears most often in women.)
Gout: This painful condition is often due to a defect in body chemistry that affects small joints, particularly the big toe. (Gout occurs most often in men.)
Fibromyalgia: This condition involves widespread pain that affects the muscles and attachments to the bone. It is more common in women.
Treating Arthritis: What are the Options?
There is currently no "cure" for arthritis, but there are many ways to manage the condition and still lead an active life. To treat the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, pain-relievers (both over-the-counter and prescription) and anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed. As a last resort, doctors may also recommend joint surgery to repair damaged joints or replace them.
However, there are many natural methods to lessen the pain and other symptoms of arthritis, and to protect your body from damage.
While people with arthritis should rest their joints if they feel fatigued, too much rest can actually worsen the condition. A regular exercise program is highly recommended for anyone with arthritis, not only to help you maintain a healthy weight (a must to protect your joints) but also to benefit your joints directly. Your exercise routine should include:
Range-of-motion exercises: Yoga, stretching and dance can help increase flexibility, relieve stiffness and maintain normal joint movement.
Aerobic and endurance exercises: Walking, bike riding or using an elliptical machine can reduce inflammation in your joints and help control your weight.
Strengthening exercises: Strength traininghelps to keep your muscles strong, which will support and protect your joints.
Eating a healthy diet is also incredibly important to maintain your weight and benefit your overall health. Focusing on getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are naturally anti-inflammatory, may also help.
Beyond exercise and eating right, the following natural methods can help to relieve the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis:
Consider alternative treatments. Biofeedback can help you to become more aware of your body's reaction to pain, and may help you learn how to control the reactions. Acupuncture, which involves inserting small needles into specific points on your body, can also help to relieve pain.
Finally, if you have arthritis pay attention to your body. If you feel fatigued, don't push yourself; and be careful not to strain your joints (such as to open a jar). Do things that will make your life easier (like using a jar opener or having someone open the jar for you) and whenever possible use your large muscles and large joints to perform daily tasks.
Above all else, remember that arthritis is a condition that you can manage. Staying optimistic and positive about the future will ensure that you stay in control of the condition and, studies have found, will help you experience less pain and make fewer visits to the doctor.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases