Arthritis

By Lewis, Carol | FDA Consumer, May 2000 | Go to article overview

Arthritis


Lewis, Carol, FDA Consumer


Timely Treatments for an Ageless Disease

MYTH: Arthritis affects only older people.

FACT: Arthritis affects any age, including children. There's no question that the incidence of arthritis increases with age, but nearly three of .every five sufferers are under age 65.

MYTH: Arthritis is just minor aches and pains.

FACT: Arthritis can be permanently debilitating.

MYTH: Arthritis cannot be treated.

FACT: FDA recently approved several new treatments for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The fact is, these myths keep people from seeking a doctor's help against the number one cause of disability in the United States, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis disables more Americans than heart disease and stroke, and CDC says it's what Americans don't know about the disease that can hurt them.

"People ignore arthritis both as public and personal health problems because it doesn't kill you," says Chad Helmick, a medical epidemiologist at CDC. "But what they don't realize is that as Americans work and live longer, arthritis can affect their quality of life and eventually lead to disability." Current costs to the U.S. economy total nearly $65 billion annually--an impact equal to a moderate recession.

And the extent of the suffering is going to get worse. Arthritis already affects more than 42 million Americans in its chronic form, including 300,000 children. By 2020, CDC estimates that 60 million people will be affected, and that more than 11 million will be disabled. The Arthritis Foundation and the American College of Rheumatology agree that awareness, early diagnosis, and an aggressive treatment plan developed by a doctor are key to stopping arthritis from taking over your life.

What Is Arthritis?

Although the term literally means joint inflammation, arthritis really refers to a group of more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that can cause pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints. Certain conditions may affect other parts of the body--such as the muscles, bones, and some internal organs--and can result in debilitating, and sometimes life-threatening, complications. If left undiagnosed and untreated, arthritis can cause irreversible damage to the joints.

The two most common forms of the disease, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, have the greatest public health implications, according to the Arthritis Foundation. (See "Common Forms of Arthritis and Related Conditions.")

Osteoarthritis, previously known as "degenerative joint disease," results from the wear and tear of life. The pressure of gravity--the load of living--causes physical damage to the joints and surrounding tissues, leading to pain, tenderness, swelling, and decreased function. Initially, osteoarthritis is noninflammatory and its onset is subtle and gradual, usually involving one or only a few joints. The joints most often affected are the knee, hip and hand. Pain is the earliest symptom, usually made worse by repetitive use. Osteoarthritis affects more than 20 million people, and the risk of getting it increases with age. Other risk factors include joint trauma, obesity, and repetitive joint use.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body's own immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium (cell lining inside the joint). This chronic, potentially disabling disease causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of function in the joints.

While the cause remains elusive, doctors suspect that genetic factors are important in rheumatoid arthritis. Recent studies have begun to tease out the genetic characteristics that can be passed from generation to generation. However, the inherited trait alone does not cause the illness. Researchers think this trait, along with some other unknown factor--probably in the environment--triggers the disease. …

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