Arthritis affects far more than just elderly
There’s a misconception among many that arthritis is a disease for “old people.” Rheumatologists like me do have patients who are octogenarians, but arthritis patients in the U.S. also include toddlers and every age in between.
A study released at the end of 2017 confirmed what physicians already had suspected: Estimates of how many Americans have arthritis were previously underestimated, and the number of Americans between 18 and 64 with arthritis may be about 68 percent higher than previously reported from surveys.
This information doesn’t mean doctors will treat arthritis symptoms any differently than before. But it’s important for everyone to recognize those symptoms and realize that arthritis affects more than just seniors.
Why it’s important to get diagnosed early
Arthritis is a term that encompasses many types of joint diseases, and treatments for each type may vary.
For patients with an autoimmune type of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis, patients not only experience pain, but also can have irreversible damage to joints if their condition is left undiagnosed and untreated. Having a doctor begin treatment as early as possible can prevent the disease from causing permanent disability. Arthritis also is linked with several other health conditions that could improve with earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Besides, there’s no reason to endure the pain of arthritis when there may be treatment available.
Symptoms to look for
There are two categories of arthritis: inflammatory and non-inflammatory. Non-inflammatory types of arthritis include those that are caused by wear and tear of the joints (osteoarthritis). Osteoarthritis is most common in the knees, hips and spine.
Inflammatory arthritis includes chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and lupus. Many of the inflammatory types of arthritis are autoimmune diseases.
Typically, people with non-inflammatory arthritis complain of joint pain that worsens with time and activity, and they say that resting their joints helps provide some relief. They may experience some stiffness in the morning upon waking up, but it typically lasts less than 30 minutes.
For those with inflammatory arthritis, it’s the opposite – they typically say they have some improvement when they’re active, and their joints become stiff when inactive for extended periods. When waking up in the morning, they may experience joint stiffness that lasts 45 minutes to an hour. Those with inflammatory arthritis also seem to experience a lot of swelling and inflammation around joints.
If any of these symptoms arise, keep track of when they happen and consider seeing a doctor. Look out for pain, stiffness and swelling, especially in smaller joints, like hands, fingers and wrists – those are warning signs.
How arthritis affects overall health
Arthritis affects the joints, of course. But a lesser-known fact about arthritis conditions is that they are systemic diseases that can affect different areas of the body:
- Skin – in rashes.
- Bones – through a loss of bone density.
- Eyes – some arthritis can cause inflammation and dryness.
- The mouth – chronic inflammation can also cause dry mouth, which can eventually lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
- Lungs – severe inflammation can lead to pulmonary fibrosis.
- Blood – prolonged inflammation can lead to anemia.
- The heart and cardiovascular system – the risk of heart attack and stroke for those with autoimmune arthritis is much higher than for people of the same age who don’t have arthritis.
Even if you’ve already been diagnosed with arthritis, be sure to work with all of your doctors to monitor the other areas of your health that can be affected, especially with inflammatory types of arthritis.
Arthritis is happening earlier in life than even the medical community realized a couple of decades ago. If people of all ages can become more aware of what to look for, arthritis sufferers may not have to go long without treatment.
Hareth Madhoun, DO, is a rheumatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and an assistant professor in the Division of Rheumatology at The Ohio State University.