May Is Arthritis Awareness Month
I am quickly approaching the sixth anniversary of my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. Over the past few years I have discovered that there are quite a few widely held and terribly inaccurate myths about arthritis. While I have always done my best to correct misconceptions and try to help people understand the reality of life with arthritis, I must admit that I still occasionally find myself blindsided by someone who is downright wrong about arthritis (or wants to convince me about some crazy “cure” for arthritis). Those are always frustrating interactions, and sometimes they can be extremely disheartening.
May is National Arthritis Awareness Month – so it’s a great time to work together to try and set the record straight! Here are some facts and explanations to have in your arsenal the next time you encounter someone who has fallen victim to one of those crazy myths!
Different types of arthritis
The vast majority of arthritis myths spring from people thinking that “arthritis” is a single disease, which is simply wrong. In reality, the word “arthritis” refers to more than 100 different diseases and conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage, and other tissue. While different types of arthritis can result in similar symptoms – such as chronic stiffness and joint pain – different types of arthritis have very different causes, and thus need to be treated differently.
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA). OA occurs when the tissue that provides cushioning between the bones of a joint, called cartilage, begins to break down over time. It is sometimes referred to as “degenerative” or “non-inflammatory” arthritis. Unfortunately, these terms can be somewhat confusing because all types of arthritis are technically degenerative (causing a body part to become weaker or less able to function over time) and all types of arthritis do cause joint inflammation (where a part of the body becomes red, swollen, and painful). The important distinction that this terminology is attempting to show is that OA is caused by a physical breakdown in cartilage over time (or sometimes with heavy use of a particular joint).
RA is an autoimmune disease
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and juvenile arthritis (JA), on the other hand, are autoimmune diseases. This means that a person’s immune system malfunctions and mistakenly attacks healthy joints. These diseases not only create inflammation and chronic pain in the joints but can also have other symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, and the possibility for organ damage. Autoimmune arthritis often requires the use of specialized medications to control a person’s overactive immune system, keep symptoms in check, and prevent long term joint damage. Other autoimmune diseases that fall into the arthritis category include ankylosing spondylitis, fibromyalgia, gout, lupus, and psoriatic arthritis.
In general, all types of arthritis are serious, painful, and debilitating. Taken as a whole, arthritis is the nation’s leading cause of disability, affecting one in five adults. It is a more frequent cause of activity limitation than heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
Overall impact of RA
Arthritis is not just a disease of old age. In fact, two-thirds of adults with arthritis are younger than 65. And there are 300,000 children growing up with arthritis in the United States. Unless something is done to reverse current trends, an estimated 6 million Americans will be suffering from arthritis by the year 2030.
Arthritis also costs $128 billion annually in medical care and other costs, such as lost wages. People with arthritis account for at least 44 million outpatient visits and 992,100 hospitalizations every single year.
Though many treatment options exist, and more are currently being researched and developed, there is no cure for any type of arthritis. And that’s why we need people to understand the truth about arthritis – because we need to encourage fundraising for research into treatments and a cure!
So if you get the chance this month, try to educate someone about the true facts of life with arthritis. Hopefully, together we can increase awareness.
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