While doing my research for a host of issues related to bones and joints, it occurred to me a lot of information exists about arthritis, perhaps more than I am usually accustomed to reading. Is it because we are subject to more forms of media presentations these days, or are arthritis rates steadily climbing? Perhaps it is a bit of both, but further investigation revealed that, yes, arthritis rates are on the rise. In fact, I have noticed that many people in my age category (40s) are presenting more cases of the disease than I realized. I have several friends who struggle with this condition, and it is alarming to me that they must deal with arthritis at what I presume to be such a young age.
Epidemics come in many forms—the flu, HIV, etc—but recent information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suggested that arthritis has the potential to turn into an epidemic that will not only weaken the quality of life for many individuals, but perhaps can even become a life-threatening one.
Currently, nearly 50 million adults suffer from arthritis in the US, which represents an increase of four million people in the past four years. Within the next 19 years, that number is expected to reach 67 million adults who will be living with arthritis.
Those who suffer from this disease are all too familiar with the associated pain and discomfort, and many have trouble simply maintaining a normal daily routine. According to the CDC, about 42 percent of adults living with arthritis indicated they have to limit their daily activities because of joint pain.(1)
Many people who are struggling with the debilitating effects of arthritis are also carrying the burden of other conditions, such as obesity, osteoarthritis, and the need for invasive procedures, such as joint replacements. This has caused great concern among doctors and patients.
The factors that contribute to these frightening statistics include age, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, and vitamin D deficiency. Advancing age is a strong risk factor. Being female and over the age of 75 further increases one’s risk of developing the disease. Women are also more likely than men to sustain rapid joint destruction.(2)
It’s no secret obesity rates are soaring in the US, too. I was recently on a four-day business trip, and I was shocked at the number of people I saw who were carrying excess weight. Even as I look around my own town, it seems there are a huge number of people battling the bulge, more than I recall ten or 15 years ago. Obviously, the more weight your joints have to carry, the more wear and tear those joints undergo. Obese individuals are twice as likely to develop arthritis of the knee as people of normal weight. Those who do carry excess weight are more likely to require joint replacements, and they also have more difficulty recovering from the procedures.
As rates of rheumatoid arthritis climb, so will cases of osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis can damage one’s joints, which in turn leaves him or her susceptible to developing osteoarthritis over time.
A lack of vitamin D, one of the nutrients essential for maintaining strong bones, can put one at risk for weakened bones, as well as for osteoarthritis. With diets that seem to push out vitamin D-enriched foods, and with less exposure to the sun that allows for natural amounts of vitamin D to be absorbed, people are putting their joints at risk. However, research on this connection is still ongoing.
Sadly, the increasing trend of arthritis will most likely continue until individuals work toward preventing obesity. Just losing 11 pounds can cut your risk in half, and it can also improve your quality of life.
Studies have also suggested a higher rate of obesity-related arthritis exists among baby boomers compared to their parents’ generation. In fact, these studies showed that the risk of arthritis and rates of obesity greatly soared in the baby boomer generation.(3)
Public health strategies are needed to deal with the issues of obesity and arthritis. What I can identify for myself, as a person on the tail end of the boomer generation, is to simply recognize the need to keep my weight at a healthy and normal level. Also, I must continually keep an eye on my health through regular exercise, a good diet and routine exams with my physician. Prevention is typically the best approach. I don’t want the quality of my life to be compromised because I wasn’t willing to put in the effort to make it a good one!
As always, be sure to consult with your doctor for the best exercise and/or weight loss program for you. He or she will have to take into consideration any other conditions you might have, which could have an impact on the approach you take to maintain a wonderful quality of life.
1. Madeline Vann, MPH, medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH at http://www.everydayhealth.com/arthritis/why-more-people-are-living-with-arthritis.aspx
2. Dr. Jamal A. Mikdashi, associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore
3. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), an affiliate of Harvard Medical School
4. http://www.everydayhealth.com/arthritis/why-more-people-are-living-with-arthritis.aspx 5.http://seniorliving.about.com/od/babyboomers/a/boomerarthritis.htm).
Reviewed June 15, 2011
Edited by Kate Kunkel