One of every three adults in the United States suffers from arthritis, tens of millions more than in previous estimates, according to a comprehensive survey released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The first-ever state-by-state survey found that nearly 70 million American adults suffer from chronic joint pain or arthritis, the leading cause of disability in the nation. Arthritis costs the nation an estimated $82 billion annually in medical costs and lost work days, and that figure is expected to grow as baby boomers age. ”We are a nation in pain,” said Tino Mantella, president of the Arthritis Foundation. ”The country needs to take more action, and people need to take control of their arthritis.”
Dr. Chad Helmick of the CDC said the numbers highlight the need to address arthritis as a major public health issue. ”Because of larger social trends, such as more older workers and people living longer, it’s a concern for society to deal with.”
However, Helmick said the 70 million figure does not represent an epidemic or even a substantial increase in the prevalence of 100 types of arthritis. He said it reflects a better count than the last national estimate, in 1997, which found that about 1 out of 5 adults suffered from arthritis.
Each year, arthritis results in 750,000 hospitalizations and 44 million outpatient visits, according to the CDC. And more than 7 million people are disabled by arthritis and related conditions, a number CDC officials said remained largely unchanged. But many people with milder symptoms never visit the doctor.
The latest survey included both people whose condition was diagnosed by a doctor and those who told surveyors that they had experienced joint pain, stiffness, or swelling for most of a month sometime in the last year.
The National Institutes of Health spent $278 million on arthritis research last year, a fraction of its $20 billion budget. Additional research is funded by the Arthritis Foundation and by the pharmaceutical industry. Scientists are just beginning to uncover the causes and mechanism of the illnesses. And there is no cure for the major forms of arthritis – osteoarthritis, in which the joints wear as people grow older, and rheumatoid arthritis, a condition affecting more young people in which the body turns on itself and causes joint deformity.
”Hopefully, this will lead to increased funding for arthritis research,” said Dr. Karen Costenbader, a rheumatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. ”The whole picture of these illnesses is still unclear.”
Costenbader said common treatments for osteoarthritis include pain pills and steroid injections, although these do not reverse the progression of the disease. The illness in its early stages can also be treated with exercise to keep joints strong and weight loss to ease the pounding on joints.
The CDC’s Helmick urged Americans with joint pain to see their doctors to ensure early diagnosis and treatment. ”People tend to minimize these symptoms too often,” he said.
The survey polled more than 212,000 adults in all 50 states and extrapolated the results to each state and the nation. In Massachusetts, the survey found 30 percent of adults or about 1.5 million people suffer from arthritis. Nationwide, the survey showed a higher prevalence among women, those who were physically inactive, and those who were overweight. CDC officials cautioned that the numbers might be slightly inflated because there may be other causes for the chronic joint pain reported by people whose arthritis had not been diagnosed by a doctor.