Understanding Arthritis

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How Big is Your Big Picture?

In dealing with the monumental present impact of arthritis, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. We may understand and despise the impact it has on the daily lives of sufferers. We may know the struggles of providing or gaining treatment, or follow all of the latest promising research with zeal. These are the things that are easy to see and measure.

Sometimes, however, it is beneficial to take a step back to gain some additional perspective. The big picture is always made of innumerable smaller slides, each one holding a tremendous amount of value, and perhaps a key to help us learn more about what we can do today and help guide the future.

The Past Beckons

In medicine, like in everything else, the past calls to us when we seek to understand the present. Whether through ancient texts and relics, or through the remains of ancient rulers, saints, human history is full of examples of how disease leaves its signature on the past, affects the present, and influences the future. Including arthritis.

Arthritis is nothing new. A reference to it is found in texts at least as far back as 4500 BC, describing symptoms that appear similar to rheumatoid arthritis, or RA. Its crippling effect is also not new.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was also King Charles I of Spain, for example, developed gouty arthritis in 1528. The disease became progressively more active and by 1552 caused him to postpone an attempt to recapture the Flemish city of Metz. The joint inflammation rendered him unable to lead his army into battle and he subsequently relinquished command of his forces, and then the crown, to his son, King Philip II of Spain. King Charles retired to a solitary life at the Monastery of Yuste, forever changing the course of history.

More than 200 years later, an attack of gout kept the English statesman William Pitt from stopping the passage of a tax on tea by Parliament. The tax led to the Boston Tea Party, and eventually to American independence. Of course, we here in America are thankful Pitt missed a day of work for our independence, but ability and independence are just two examples of what arthritis robs bit by bit from its sufferers.

Arthritis Today

Arthritis affects millions of people every day with nagging, aching, throbbing, and often incapacitating pain. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, it is associated with organ damage and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Yet, while common and not of recent origin, arthritis is not well understood in our nation. Perhaps because rather than a single disease as it is commonly misunderstood to be, “arthritis” is an umbrella term referring to many diseases causing joint pain or joint disease. There are, in fact, more than 200 different types of arthritis-related diseases impacting over 50 million adults and 300,000 children in the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Current Crisis

It is an unforgiving condition that dramatically impacts the lives of sufferers physically, emotionally, socially, and financially. From the clinical perspective, it is much more complex than one might expect having different causes and therefore, different treatments. Osteoarthritis (OA) is caused by “wear and tear” on the joints causing cartilage to break down over time. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease causing the individual’s immune system to attack healthy joints.

Arthritis has a wider impact than most people realize. It accounts for $128 billion annually in Medicare and other costs, as well as 44 million outpatient visits, and nearly a million hospitalizations each year. It is also not just a disease impacting old age, with two-thirds of impacted adults younger than 65.

Arthritis, as a whole, is the nation’s leading cause of disability, affecting one in five adults and a more frequent cause of limitation than heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. Unless something is done to curb the trends, by 2030, experts estimate that 6 million Americans will be suffering from arthritis.

Currently, there is no cure for any type of arthritis, though many treatment options do exist. Over the last two decades, pharmaceutical research has led to the development of several powerful and promising medications that have changed the course of the disease including disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, and biologics, among others. But the quest must continue.

By looking at the past, we can learn to ask new questions that lead to new and even more promising results. At Healthy Kansas City magazine, we encourage all of our readers to support arthritis research. With steady progress in research, technology, and awareness we believe that there will emerge even more novel and effective treatments, earlier interventions, and most importantly improved lives.

For more information about arthritis, please visit the National Arthritis Foundation http://blog.arthritis.org

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