Arthritis: The Most Common Cause of Disability

May is National Arthritis Awareness month.

Arthritis affects approximately 53 million adults and 300,000 children in the United States making arthritis one of the most common diseases in the country.  According to studies done by the National Health Interview Survey, these numbers are projected to grow over the next 30 years as a large segment of the population continues to age.  But what exactly is arthritis?  How does it affect the body?  What can you do to help relieve the pain?  Over the course of this month, we will strive to help answer these questions and point you toward tools that can help those with the disease to manage daily activities.

Arthritis 101: What is it?

Arthritis is an overarching term for over 100 different types of diseases and conditions that affect the joints and tissues around these joints throughout the body.  The most common form is called osteoarthritis, but other forms of the disease include lupus, gout, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, just to name a few.  Anyone can develop arthritis for various reasons, some caused by other chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.  Other causes can be from a joint injury many years ago or from simple aging.

Arthritis 101: How does it affect the body?

Symptoms of arthritis vary in location and severity from person to person.  The most common symptoms are swelling, stiffness and pain in and around the joints.  For some, the aches and pains could be a dull throb that affects joints throughout the body.  For others, the pain may be severe for a single, focused joint.  Some types of arthritis, such as lupus, can affect multiple organs as well as the joints.  Each case is unique, and it is very important to talk to your doctor to determine causes and treatments.

Arthritis 101: What can you do to help relieve the pain?

The first thing to do is to see a certified physician.  They will be able to diagnose the specific form of arthritis, determine possible causes and recommend various treatments.  For mild cases, symptoms can be managed by:

  • Using hot and cold therapies, such as hot baths and cold compresses
  • Regular physical activity
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and weight
  • Avoiding repetitive movements and injury
  • And many others…

Arthritis 101: How can I learn more?

Excellent resources for arthritis information, treatment and tips can be found at on the Arthritis Foundation website at www.arthritis.org or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at www.cdc.gov/arthritis.  Also, your family doctor can help develop a management plan specific to your symptoms and needs.