CDC: Arthritis Disables One in Four American Adults

Ines Martins, PhD avatar

by Ines Martins, PhD |

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About 54 million Americans have been diagnosed with arthritis — a debilitating joint disease that takes many forms including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis — and 24 million are disabled by some sort of the disease. That means one in four Americans is living with the disease today, up 20 percent since 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says in its “Vital Signs” report.

“Arthritis symptoms keep millions of Americans from going about their daily routines,” CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat said in a press release.

Even though arthritis frequently occurs together with other health conditions like heart disease, diabetes or obesity, its causes are not clear, as the disease is not restricted to an older population. Almost two in five adults with arthritis are of working age (18 to 64 years), the CDC reports.

Because arthritis causes joint aches, stiffness and swelling of the joints, ever the most basic activities can be challenging. However, specific exercises like walking, swimming or biking can reduce symptoms by up to 40 percent, which is especially important given that narcotic painkillers — often prescribed for arthritis — are not always the safest option. Instead of opioids, people with arthritis should watch their weight and find an exercise they enjoy and are comfortable with.

“Physical activity is a proven strategy to ease pain and reduce symptoms among people with arthritis,” said Schuchat, emphasizing that about one-third of adults with arthritis aren’t active.

“It is just as important for [doctors] to motivate their patients to attend workshops to learn how to better manage their arthritis,” said CDC epidemiologist Kamil Barbour, adding that people will most likely attend a program if a healthcare provider recommends it. Statistics show that only one in 10 U.S. arthritis patients has attended this type of workshop.

Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout and fibromyalgia are the most common forms of arthritis, a disease that costs Americans at least $81 billion a year in direct medical costs.