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May is National Arthritis Month

Arthritis Basics

Very Basic

 Arthritis impacts more than 50 million adults (1 in 5) and 300,000 (1 in every 250 under the age of 18) children and is an often misunderstood disease.

So what is arthritis?  It is not a single disease; it is a complex group of musculoskeletal disorders with many causes and no cures.  There are over 100 different types of arthritis and people of all ages, sexes and races are affected.  Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in America because it can destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues, which then hamper or halt physical movement.   It is more common in women and as people age it occurs more frequently.  Arthritis is the second most frequently reported chronic condition in the US and a more frequent cause of activity limitation than heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

Arthritis is not a disease of old age, two thirds of people are under the age of 65, this includes children under age 18.  According to the Arthritis Foundation, the three most common forms of arthritis are:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA): the most common form of arthritis is a progressive degenerative joint disease characterized by the breakdown of joint cartilage associated with risk factors, such as overweight/obesity, history of joint injury and age.  It affects nearly 27 million Americans, most over the age of 45. Read more about osteoarthritis.
  •  Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): a systemic disease characterized by the inflammation of the membrane lining the joint, which causes pain, stiffness, warmth, swelling and sometimes severe joint damage.  It causes inflammation throughout the body, affecting the heart and other organs.  In the United States, an estimated 1.5 million people have RA and there are 2.5 times as many women as men with the disease. Read more about rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Juvenile Arthritis (JA): is an umbrella term used to describe the many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that can develop in children ages 16 and younger. Read more about juvenile arthritis.

Common symptoms of arthritis are: swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion.  Symptoms may come and go, can range from mild to severe, and may stay the same for years or progress and get worse over time.  Severe arthritis can include chronic pain, inability to preform daily activities and make mobility difficult.    In addition, it can cause permanent joint changes, some of which are visible (knobby finger joints) but often can only be seen on x-ray.  Arthritis can also affect soft tissue organs such as the heart, lungs, eyes, kidneys, and skin as well as joints.

Often diagnosis of arthritis starts with a person’s primary care physician.  The physician may perform a physical, run blood tests and imagining scans (such as x-rays) to determine the type of arthritis.  In some cases a person may choose to or be referred to an arthritis specialist called a rheumatologist.  An orthopedic doctor may be referred to if the arthritis is severe and may require joint surgery or replacement.

Many things can be done to preserve joint function, mobility and quality of life for someone with arthritis.  Learning about the disease and various treatment options available, physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight are essential components.  More information about the different types of arthritis and practical tips for daily living can be found at the Arthritis Foundation’s website listed below.  The Arthritis Foundation is the only non-profit organization dedicated to serving all people with arthritis.


Arthritis Foundation:

  • The Heavy Burden of Arthritis in the U.S.,

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