Treating Arthritis, Preventing Disability

In "Arthritis: A Cleveland Clinic Guide," author John D. Clough, M.D., refers to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that arthritis causes disability for 8 million people and results in 9,500 deaths per year. With the right treatment, many diagnosed with arthritis can live long and fruitful lives despite these figures.

May Is National Arthritis Month.

Clough defines arthritis as stiffness in one or more joints. Often arthritis is associated with pain. The two most common types of arthritis — and there are many forms of arthritis — are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, describes a condition where immune mechanisms that normally fight infections and malignancies begin to attack components within the body. The result is inflammation in various tissues and ultimately destruction. Osteoarthrits, a degenerative disease of the joint cartilage, causes mechanical irritation typically in older or obese adults. Arthritis could potentially lead to joint destruction and permanent disability. For that reason, early, aggressive treatment is paramount.

Also important to note is that arthritis could be an early manifestation of another serious disease including lung cancer, systemic lupus erythematosus, hepatitis, rheumatic fever, tuberculosis, AIDS and many others.

Though many times, arthritis conditions are chronic and have no cure, treatments exist to prevent further damage and help people regain mobility. Drug treatments including anti-inflammatory agents, immunosuppressive medicines, antibiotics, uric acid-lowering agents and corticosteroids have been effective treatments. Physical and occupational therapies are also helpful, though surgery and chemotherapy might be necessary for more severe forms of the condition, cites Clough. Passive modalities of therapy including heat, active strengthening and range-of-motion exercises benefit many arthritis patients. These treatments must be closely supervised by occupational or physical therapists. Surgical treatments often repair or reconstruct damaged joints, such as those caused by osteoarthritis, that are painful or cause disability.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, headquartered in Atlanta, orthopaedic braces and aids to daily living can help those with arthritis in daily tasks. The organization also offers the following tips for selecting easy-to-use products, from braces to dishes:

  • Make sure the product matches the specific condition.
  • Products should make day-to-day tasks easier.
  • Products with texture make grasping easier.
  • Products should be lightweight, safe to use and require minimal upkeep.
  • Products with flip-top caps, zippers and larger, easy-to-open lids target those with limited dexterity.
  • Products should be comfortable to wear, carry or operate.
  • Products that can be carried close to the body may alleviate pressure on arms, hands and back.

New research continues to improve the lives of arthritis sufferers. In 2005, the Arthritis Foundation cited several improvements, including the recent approval of a first-in-class biologic drug for rheumatoid arthritis, the proven safety of oral contraceptives in women with lupus and the development of the first new drug for gout in 40 years.

The Arthritis Foundation's Top 10 Arthritis Advances for 2005

"Advances made in 2005 promise a better quality of life for patients with arthritis and related diseases in the year ahead and hint at breakthroughs that are possible in the future," John H. Klippel, M.D., president and CEO of the Arthritis Foundation, said in a news release. "As the nation ages and the number of people with arthritis increases, advances in research, public health and public policy will contribute to the prevention, control and cure of arthritis — the nation's number one cause of disability."

Photo Caption: "Arthritis: A Cleveland Clinic Guide" is an excellent resource for anyone working with or living with arthritis. The book's thought-provoking chapters define causes, treatments and outcomes for many common forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, through hypothetical patient stories.

The Arthritis Foundation's Top 10 Arthritis Advances for 2005

The following list from the Arthritis Foundation cites the top 10 arthritis advances for 2005:

  • New biologic drugs for rheumatoid arthritis
  • First new drug for gout in 40 years
  • Historic Medicare program expansion
  • Lifestyle choices reduce pain and improve function
  • Improvements in osteoporosis patient compliance and quality of life
  • New drug for lupus nephritis; safety of oral contraceptives in lupus
  • Evidence-based treatment recommendations for juvenile arthritis
  • Greater understanding of arthritis drug risks
  • Osteoporosis drug delays osteoarthritis joint destruction
  • Discovery of key regulator of autoimmunity

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This article originally appeared in the April 2006 issue of HME Business.


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