What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a joint disorder that involves inflammation of one or more joints. The inflammation may be triggered by infections in the joint or by autoimmune processes. In many of the arthritic conditions, such as osteoarthritis, the cause and process of the disease are not well understood.

 Arthritis includes more than 100 different rheumatic diseases and conditions, the most common of which is osteoarthritis. Other forms of arthritis that occur often are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and gout. Symptoms include pain, aching, stiffness, and swelling in or around the joints. Some forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, can affect multiple organs and cause widespread symptoms.

 Arthritis is more common among adults aged 65 years or older, but people of all ages (including children) can be affected. Nearly two-thirds of people with arthritis are younger than 65. Arthritis is more common among women than men in every age group, and it affects members of all racial and ethnic groups. Arthritis is also more common among adults who are obese than among those who are normal weight or underweight.

Why is arthritis a public health problem?

1) High prevalence.
An estimated 50 million U.S. adults (about 1 of 5) report having
doctor-diagnosed arthritis. As the U.S. population ages, the number
of adults with arthritis is expected to increase sharply to 67 million by 2030.

2) High lifetime risk.
One community study estimated that the lifetime risk of developing knee osteoarthritis that causes pain is 45%. Researchers estimate that 57% of people who have had a knee injury and 60% of people who are obese will develop osteoarthritis.

 3) Common disability.
Arthritis is the nation’s most common cause of disability. It limits the activities of 21 million Americans—for example, preventing them from being able to climb stairs or walk more than short distances. For 1 of 3 adults of working age (18–65 years) with arthritis, it can limit the type or amount of work they do or whether they can work at all.

 4) Occurs with other chronic conditions.
Among U.S. adults with arthritis, nearly half (47%) have at least one other disease or condition. In addition, more than half of adults with heart disease (57%) or diabetes (52%) and more than one-third with high blood pressure (44%) or obesity (36%) also have arthritis.

5) Discourages physical activity.
Research has shown that people with arthritis are less likely to be physically active. Some people believe that being active will cause pain, make their symptoms worse, or damage their joints. Others don’t know how to exercise safely. Nearly 44% of adults with arthritis report no leisure-time physical activity (compared with about 36% of those without arthritis). Not being physically active is a risk factor for other chronic diseases (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, obesity) and makes it harder to manage these conditions.

What can you do to prevent and control arthritis?

Learn ways to manage arthritis.
Self-management education interventions, such as the Arthritis Self-Management Program or the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, can teach people with arthritis how to manage their condition, lessen its effects, and improve their quality of life.

Be physically active.
For people with arthritis, physical activities such as walking, bicycling, and swimming can have many benefits. These benefits include less pain and better physical function, mental health, and quality of life.

Maintain a healthy weight and protect your joints.
People can reduce their risk of developing osteoarthritis by controlling their weight and avoiding injuries. Weight loss also can reduce symptoms for people with knee osteoarthritis who are overweight or obese.

Ask a doctor.
Recommendations from health care providers are among the most influential factors in convincing people to be physically active and join a self-management program. People with inflammatory arthritis will have a better quality of life if they are diagnosed early and learn how to manage this condition.

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