Who is affected by arthritis?
Arthritis sufferers include men and women, children and adults. Approximately 350 million people worldwide have arthritis. Nearly 40 million people in the United States are affected by arthritis, including over a quarter million children!
More than 27 million Americans have osteoarthritis. Approximately 1.3 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
More than half of those with arthritis are under 65 years of age. Nearly 60% of Americans with arthritis are women.
How is arthritis diagnosed, and why is a diagnosis important?
The first step in the diagnosis of arthritis is a meeting between the doctor and the patient. The doctor will review the history of symptoms, examine the joints for inflammation and deformity, as well as ask questions about or examine other parts of the body for inflammation or signs of diseases that can affect other body areas. Furthermore, certain blood, urine, joint fluid, and/or X-ray tests might be ordered. The diagnosis will be based on the pattern of symptoms, the distribution of the inflamed joints, and any blood and X-ray findings. Several visits may be necessary before the doctor can be certain of the diagnosis. A doctor with special training in arthritis and related diseases is called a rheumatologist (see below).
Many forms of arthritis are more of an annoyance than serious. However, millions of people suffer daily with pain and disability from arthritis or its complications.
Earlier and accurate diagnosis can help to prevent irreversible damage and disability. Properly guided programs of exercise and rest, medications, physical therapy, and surgery options can idealize long-term outcomes for those with arthritis.
It should be noted that both before and especially after the diagnosis of arthritis, communication with the treating doctor is essential for optimal health. This is important from the standpoint of the doctor, so that he/she can be aware of the vagaries of the patient’s symptoms as well as their tolerance of and acceptance of treatments. It is important from the standpoint of patients, so that they can be assured that they have an understanding of the diagnosis and how the condition does and might affect them. It is also crucial for the safe use of medications.