Arthritis used to be thought of as an inevitable part of getting older. As joints and the protective structures around them age, pain develops and people seek relief through physical therapy, medication or surgery. Yet, a new approach to calculating the prevalence of arthritis shows that more people have the condition than previously estimated.
Calculating Arthritis Prevalence
A study published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology concluded that the most widely used tool to determine the prevalence of arthritis in the United States – a one-question survey – grossly underestimated the number of people, especially adults younger than 65 years old, with arthritis. The one-question measurement focused solely on whether a person had been diagnosed with arthritis by a doctor. It didn’t factor in the presence of joint pain, which has been found to be a good indicator of arthritis, nor did it consider the duration of that pain.
When questions about these additional indicators are asked, the study showed that arthritis prevalence jumps from 50 million adults to 91 million adults, just over one third of the total adult population of the U.S. in 2015. Moreover, nearly one third of those adults are between the ages of 18 and 64 years, showing an increased number of younger Americans with the disease.
“I’m very surprised that a lot of people in our population don’t understand what arthritis is,” says Francisco Garcia, PA-C, a physician assistant with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute’s arthritis clinic. “They think it’s just pain or crepitus or noises that their joint makes, and they have to live with it. That’s not necessarily true.”
People don’t necessarily have to live with arthritis, he adds.
“We can tailor the treatment based on the patient’s symptoms and how much this condition is affecting their quality of life,” says Mr. Garcia. “Not everybody that has arthritis needs to have surgery. And not everybody that has arthritis is required to have an injection.”
The goal at the Institute’s arthritis clinic is to help patients with arthritis return to their daily activities by using non-surgical techniques — and educate them on their condition, he says.
Public Health Impact
From a public health standpoint, this significant increase in arthritis patients, especially among younger age groups, means a higher number of patients seeking medical attention to alleviate pain in the short term and more surgery to treat structural damage within the joints in the long term. What’s more, those who need joint replacements in their 40s or 50s will likely need those replacements repeated in 10 to 15 years, compounding the impact of this condition on public health.
With this new calculation and the awareness of the higher prevalence of arthritis, more doctors will likely look for arthritis earlier than they previously did and encourage preventive measures to slow or stop the progression of the joint degeneration.
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