[dropcap]The[/dropcap] symptoms of arthritis are familiar to many folks: inflammation, stiffness in the joints, loss of movement, fatigue and pain. Arthritis affects more than 50 million people nationally and is now the leading cause of disabilities. In Arkansas alone, more than 653,000 people suffer from some form of arthritis, including 2,700 children, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
There are many forms of the disease — more than 135 are known — but the most common are gout, which most often affects the joint of the big toe; lupus, an autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body; rheumatoid arthritis, which affects the small joints in the hands and feet; and osteoarthritis, the most common form, which occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of bones wears down.
One of the common myths about arthritis is that it is a disease of old age. In fact, two-thirds of people with arthritis are younger than 65, and women are three times more likely than men to develop arthritis.
Specific causes are not yet known for most forms of the disease. Though there’s also no cure, there are many ways to manage symptoms. Medications, exercise, stress management, surgery and occupational and physical therapy all play a role in managing arthritis.
“There is a great need for arthritis research,” said Emily Pearce, program and services director for the Arthritis Foundation’s Southeast Region. “Scientific research and development holds the key to finding better diagnostics and treatments, and one day a cure. For example, osteoarthritis affects 27 million of the more than 50 million Americans with arthritis, and there are few treatment and drug options available other than drugs to treat pain and surgery to replace joints. The Arthritis Foundation is taking the lead to change this fact.”
The foundation’s Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Initiative has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of osteoarthritis and to help find a cure.
“Imagine a day when you can go to a doctor who has the ability to detect the very early onset of osteoarthritis and to prescribe something that will stop it in its tracks,” Pearce said. “That is our vision.”
Many research initiatives are underway. In the battle against juvenile arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation and the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA) recently announced a collaborative partnership to align scientific agendas and expand research. The results could have positive implications for the estimated 300,000 U.S. children and their families living with juvenile arthritis and other pediatric rheumatic diseases.
“The most important aspects of this collaboration are the implications,” said Ann Palmer, president and CEO of the Arthritis Foundation. “CARRA and the Arthritis Foundation have worked together for more than a decade to improve treatment and outcomes for children living with juvenile arthritis and other childhood rheumatic diseases. However, this collaboration goes beyond providing grants and research funding. It will ensure we are aligned on various levels to meet the needs of these children and their families.”
Until a cure is found, most people use a combination of medications, therapies and stress management to cope with the pain, inflammation, stiffness and fatigue caused by arthritis. Many people with arthritis turn to natural therapies, which range from supplements and vitamins to massage and meditative treatments.
“The Arthritis Foundation believes that natural therapies are not meant to replace any medication or treatments prescribed by your doctor, but in some cases they may take the place of certain anti-inflammatories and allow you to use fewer medications,” Pearce said. “One of the best things arthritis patients can do is educate themselves about their form of arthritis. We want arthritis patients to learn about their disease; communicate openly with their doctors; develop a network of family and friends for support; seek additional medical help such as counseling or physical or occupational therapy, if needed; and exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.”
The Arthritis Foundation has a variety of brochures, books and DVDs with information about arthritis and living with the disease. The national organization also publishes Arthritis Today, which covers topics on diseases and conditions, treatments, medications, pain management, fitness, nutrition and lifestyle.
“I tell patients that the Arthritis Foundation is here for them,” Pearce said. We help arthritis patients take a proactive role in managing their [health].
“We recommend you always let your doctor know about therapies you’re using or considering,” she added. “Your doctor can tell you what to expect from therapy in terms of benefits, risks, costs and interactions with your current treatments.”