According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis is the number one cause of disability among American adults with about 50 million people affected by the condition. This number continues to grow – by 2030, it’s estimated more than 75 million people will be affected by arthritis.
The condition leads to painful inflammation and stiffness within the joints and can lead to difficulty performing everyday activities, such as getting dressed, walking up steps, opening cans and jars and more. Although many people believe arthritis only affects older people, it can affect people of all ages.
There are two main types of arthritis: degenerative and inflammatory. The degenerative form of the condition – also known as osteoarthritis – is the most common type of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a common type of inflammatory arthritis.
- Osteoarthritis – This type of arthritis generally occurs when cartilage wears away leading to bone rubbing on bone. This may cause pain and limitation in range of motion, with short periods of stiffness after prolonged sitting/sleeping and occasional swelling. It’s typically found in weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips or back. Risk factors include being overweight or obese, a family history of the condition, older age, and a previous joint injury.Although nothing can reverse the process of osteoarthritis, the condition can often be managed through conservative treatment including regular physical activity, physical therapy, maintaining a healthy weight, using assistive devices, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medications. In the most severe cases, when symptoms greatly affect quality of life, joint replacement surgery may be necessary.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – This type of arthritis occurs when your body’s autoimmune system mistakenly attacks your joints leading to inflammation with pain, swelling, stiffness and associated fatigue. When it first comes on, it often feels like the flu. Although it can appear in medium and large joints, it usually affects small joints symmetrically. Risk factors include being female, a family history of the condition, being overweight or obese, and smoking.Although there is not a cure for rheumatoid arthritis, early, aggressive treatment can slow or stop disease progression. Medications, including corticosteroids, antirheumatic drugs and biologics, are often successful in treating patients. Physical therapy and assistive devices may also help reduce symptoms.
It’s important for people with arthritis to realize they don’t have to live in pain. Make an appointment with a primary care physician and he or she can help determine the level of care you need. Getting the right treatment and learning about ways to prevent further disability can help you live a healthy, fulfilling life.
To find a primary care physician who can refer you to the right specialist, contact your health insurance provider.