Who Is Affected By Arthritis?
Arthritis is a term that is used to describe over 100 different rheumatic conditions and diseases that affect various components in the body including the bones, joints, cartilage, connective tissues, and muscles. In the United States, approximately 50 million individuals suffer from arthritis. The three most common type of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and juvenile arthritis.
Arthritis can affect individuals at any age; reports have shown that two-thirds of individuals who are affected by arthritis are under the age of 65. Disturbingly, approximately 300,000 children suffer from this condition. Approximately 36 million arthritis sufferers are Caucasian American, 4.6 million are African American, and 2.9 million are Hispanic or Latin American.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting approximately 27 million individuals in the United States. Rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately 1.5 million individuals in the U.S., with women being affected more often than men. Typically, women are affected by this disease between the ages of 30 and 60; conversely, men are usually affected at a later point in life. Juvenile arthritis affects children of all ages and backgrounds. In the U.S., approximately 300,000 children under the age of 18 suffer from this condition or other rheumatic conditions.
The burden of arthritis has begun to take a toll on the economic and healthcare systems in the United States. This condition is responsible for about 44 million doctor’s visits and over 900,000 hospitalizations every year. Additionally, arthritis is the leading cause of disability, and results in more mobility problems than diabetes, cancer, or heart disease. Over the next two decades it is expected that the prevalence of arthritis will continue to rise, and as a result, the economic and healthcare systems will continue to be negatively impacted.
What Are The Risk Factors And Causes Of Arthritis?
The cause of osteoarthritis is not completely understood; however, a number of risk factors have been identified that can increase an individual’s risk of developing this type of arthritis. These include obesity, increasing age, previous joint injuries, overuse of a joint, weak muscles, and some genetic factors.
Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by an abnormal immune response, whereby the body starts to attack normal healthy synovial membranes that line the joint capsule and surround the joints of the body.
Juvenile arthritis is usually an autoimmune disorder. When an individual has an autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks the body’s healthy tissues and cells. It is believed that a child may have a genetic predisposition to developing this condition, or that something such as a virus triggers the condition.
While various factors, including wear and tear, trauma, injury, and abnormal immune responses, can lead to arthritis there are a number of factors that have been identified that increase an individual’s risk of developing this condition. These include:
- Genetic predisposition
- Weak musculature
- Overuse of a joint
- Increasing age
- Female sex
- Previous joint injury
- Repetitive heavy lifting
- Physically demanding job
- Allergic reaction
- Certain foods
Osteoarthritis is usually diagnosed following an assessment with a physician, consisting of a detailed history, including a family history and physical examination. At times, imaging studies including X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging may be ordered to visualize the affected joint. Lab testing may also be ordered to rule out other underlying conditions that may be affecting an individual’s pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed by blood tests that reveal specific markers of the disease. These specific markers are present in approximately 70 to 90% of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. The results of the blood tests can be used in combination with a detailed patient history, including family history, physical exam, and imaging tests.
Diagnosing juvenile arthritis can be difficult. If arthritis is suspected due to constant joint swelling and pain, unexplained skin rashes, fever, swelling of the lymph nodes, or inflammation of the organs, doctors may start to investigate the possibility of juvenile arthritis. They may use a detailed history, including a family history, physical examination, X-rays, and laboratory tests to confirm a diagnosis of juvenile arthritis.
Early diagnosis of arthritis is essential to help control pain and prevent disease progression.
Lifestyle Changes To Manage Arthritis
Simple lifestyle changes can have a huge impact on managing arthritis symptoms. Patients should manage their weight and quit smoking. Additionally, arthritis sufferers should engage in physical activity every day. Movement helps to decrease pain, increase range of motion, strengthen muscles, and increase endurance. Individuals with arthritis should focus on low-impact exercises including stretching, progressive strength training, and low-impact aerobic exercise.
There is some evidence to suggest that eating a proper diet can help to minimize arthritis complications. Certain foods containing trans and saturated fats tend to increase inflammation and should be avoided. These foods should be replaced by healthy food choices including lean cuts of beef and pork, skinless chicken and turkey, tofu, and fat-free or reduced-fat dairy products.
Treatments For Arthritis
There is no cure for arthritis; treatment focuses on pain control and improvement of joint function. First-line therapy for arthritis patients usually includes pain medication and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, protective braces, hot and cold packs, and exercise. If patients fail to respond to these therapies, physical therapy is often recommended.
For patients with pain that continues to be unresponsive, more invasive treatments may be needed. There is some evidence to suggest that cortisone injections into the affected joint may help to relieve pain symptoms. Additionally, medial branch blocks may provide relief for some arthritis sufferers.
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis may be prescribed drugs that work to suppress the abnormal immune system response. This may help to put their symptoms into remission.
The goal of treatment for patients with juvenile arthritis is to decrease pain and inflammation and improve quality of life. This usually involves a combination of therapies including physical activity, a healthy diet, medication, and eye care. These patients are usually monitored by a team of healthcare professionals who can adjust their treatment plan as needed. Medications that are commonly used for juvenile arthritis are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medication, in addition to disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs.
If you suffer from arthritis and would like additional information on this painful condition, please review the links to the literature below. Additionally, if you have questions or concerns do not hesitate to discuss them with your physician.