May is National Arthritis Awareness Month. In recognition this year, the Arthritis Foundation has launched the “Let’s Get a Grip on Arthritis” campaign with the goal of spreading awareness and gaining support to find a cure.
Arthritis is not a single disease but rather an informal way of referring to joint pain. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions that affect people of all ages, sexes, and races. It is the leading cause of disability in America, but since you tend to suffer quietly, people without arthritis often know nothing about it.
Here are some quick facts:
- More than 54 million adults in the United States have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, and 37 million more Americans may have it without knowing.
- Arthritis isn’t just an “elderly disease.” Two-thirds of people with arthritis are under the age of 65, including 300,000 children.
- While it may not be as life-threatening as cancer or heart disease, arthritis accounts for 100 million doctor visits and nearly 7 million hospitalizations each year. It can damage vital organs and make other conditions worse.
- Arthritis is to blame for the loss of 172 million workdays each year and costs the U.S. economy more than $300 billion annually in lost wages and medical expenses.
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of your joints. The main symptoms are joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, which causes cartilage to break down, and rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disorder that first targets the lining of joints.
Perhaps worst of all, arthritis steals quality of life. You must give up intense workouts or any hobbies that require physical movement. Normal activities such as grocery shopping or laundry become a painful burden. Even picking up your child is a source of discomfort.
There’s no cure yet, but there are effective treatments to reduce symptoms and improve joint function. You may need to try several different treatments, or combinations before you determine what works best for you. Lifestyle modifications and self-care can also make a big difference.
The medications used vary depending on the type of arthritis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) reduce both pain and inflammation and are available over-the-counter and by prescription. Some NSAIDs are also available as creams or gels that you can rub on your joints. Other varieties of ointments contain menthol or capsaicin, the ingredient that makes hot peppers spicy. Rubbing these on the skin may interfere with the transmission of pain signals from the joint itself. Corticosteroids, which include prednisone and cortisone, reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. You can take them orally or have them injected directly into the aching joint every three months by a pain management physician.
One of the exciting aspects of Arthritis Awareness Month is that we get a chance to see how far we’ve come in developing treatments. Advances in medicine over the past couple of decades have limited the debilitating effects we used to see. So while there still isn’t a cure, we can use this month to celebrate progress and look ahead to a time when arthritis becomes a minor inconvenience in our lives.