Diabetes Prevalence Rising
Arthritis Prevalence Is Skyrocketing in the US
There are far more Americans with rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of the disease among us, and they’re younger than we thought.
By Cathy Garrard
Medically Reviewed by Alexa Meara, MD
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More Americans may be living with arthritis than suspected. A report published online in November 2019 in the journalArthritis &Rheumatology foundthattheprevalenceofarthritisintheUnitedStateshasbeensignificantlyunderestimated,anditheavilyimpactsamuchyoungerpopulationthanoncebelieved.
Ingeneral,jointpainisacommondenominatorofmanytypesofarthritis.Thetwomaintypesareinflammatoryarthritis,suchasrheumatoidarthritis(RA),andmechanicaldisease,suchasosteoarthritis(OA).WhileRAandOAaretwoofthemostcommonformsofarthritis,conditionssuchasgout,psoriatic arthritis,andlupusfallundertheumbrellaofarthritis,too.AccordingtotheArthritisFoundation,therearemorethan100different typesofarthritisandrelatedconditions,anditistheleadingcauseofdisabilityinAmerica.
Swelling,pain,stiffness,anddecreasedrangeofmotionarecommonjointsymptoms; they can be mild, moderate or severe and they may come and go. While there are genetic links to both RA and OA, other factors can increase risk, including obesity and extreme stress.
If you’re experiencing pain, swelling, or morning stiffness, talk to a doctor about your joint symptoms. Diagnosis of some types of arthritis can be tricky, but experts agree that early treatment is your best defense against advanced progression of RA and other disease.
Issues Such as Obesity Contribute to Jump in Joint Conditions
Despite these seemingly dramatic findings, arthritis experts aren’t terribly surprised by the new numbers. “Arthritis is multifactorial, and given the increased prevalence of metabolic syndrome and obesity in the general population, the number of patients with osteoarthritis (OA), wear and tear arthritis, will continue to rise steadily,” says Vinicius Domingues, MD, medical advisor to the arthritis support group CreakyJoints and a rheumatologist based in Daytona Beach, Florida.
A Worrisome Shortage of Doctors Who Specialize in Arthritis and Joint Disease
These new findings come at a time when America is already dealing with a chronic shortage of rheumatologists. In 2013, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) declared it a crisis, and predicted that there will be a 138 percent increase in demand for these specialists by 2030, while 50 percent of rheumatologists are expected to retire over the next 15 years. “The shortage is a major issue,” says Dr. Domingues. “It’s less of a problem in major urban areas, but in rural areas, patients may have to travel hundreds of miles to seek specialized treatment.”
A Silver Lining: Many RA Drugs and Treatments Are Available
Despite the growing scarcity of rheumatologists, Domingues does say that treatment options for people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis have never been more promising. “Patients with RA have a lot to celebrate as the field has dramatically changed with new medications, but the reality is different for osteoarthritis, which has virtually made no progress in the last 15 years,” he notes.
How to Improve Future Accuracy of Arthritis Surveillance
The study authors note that current arthritis surveillance methods, which have been used since 2002, should be revised to correct for inherent limitations of the survey methods and to increase accuracy. “Overall, these new estimates will likely increase awareness and, hopefully, drive policy makers to help fund and increase number of rheumatology training programs,” says Domingues.
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