Arthritis - Not Just for Seniors Anymore

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Think arthritis is strictly an old person’s ailment? 

Think again, according to a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The CDC Vital Signs report says that about 54.4 million American adults have been diagnosed with the painful joint inflammation and stiffness of arthritis. That’s about one in four American adults.

And the largest portion – 32.2 million – are of working age, 18 to 64. 

While he’s not certain why arthritis is becoming more prevalent in the pre-senior crowd, Timothy Drehmer, MD, a rheumatologist with Troy Primary Care Physicians, recently offered Premier Health Now a few conjectures. 

First, the increase, he says, may be “an observed” increase. Not an increase in actual incidence of arthritis in the American population, but rather a rise in the number of reported cases. And, Dr. Drehmer says, a rise in reported or diagnosed cases could be attributed to: 

  • Today’s adults who, thanks to social media and direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising (“if you experience these symptoms, call your doctor”), are more health conscious than their parents
  • Success of the Arthritis Foundation in increasing public awareness
  • Physicians who are more inclined to make the diagnosis
  • “Maybe something in the environment,” as environmental factors can play a role in abnormal immune system response that contributes to joint inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis, only one of more than 100 types of arthritis

Whether the increase is real, or whether it’s due to increased reporting, the single most important thing is to seek an accurate diagnosis. Not every type of arthritis is treated the same way. 

Good News: Exercise Helps 

While treatment may differ by type of arthritis, exercise can be helpful in all types. CDC reports that no matter what side of 65 you’re on, exercise can decrease the pain of arthritis and improve physical function by about 40 percent.

And that’s something Dr. Drehmer can agree on without guessing. In fact, he gives his arthritis patients recommended exercises specific to each joint. 

According to the CDC, 23.7 million Americans with arthritis limit their activities due to pain and one in three adults with arthritis are inactive, despite evidence that exercise helps. 

Says Dr. Drehmer, “Exercise helps you maintain function of the joint, even if it doesn’t alter the course of the arthritis. If you’re exercising, you’ll be far more functional than someone who has not exercised.”

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