Arthritis—The Crippling Disease

“YOU CAN’T IMAGINE THE PAIN UNTIL YOU’VE EXPERIENCED IT. THE ONLY WAY TO GET RELIEF, I THOUGHT, WOULD BE TO DIE.”—SETSUKO, JAPAN.

“HAVING HAD IT SINCE I WAS 16, I FEEL THIS DISEASE STOLE MY YOUTH.”—DARREN, GREAT BRITAIN.

“I LOST TWO YEARS OF MY LIFE BECAUSE OF BEING BEDRIDDEN.”—KATIA, ITALY.

“ONCE THE PAIN STARTED IN ALL MY JOINTS, MY WHOLE LIFE WAS JUST PAIN.”—JOYCE, SOUTH AFRICA.

THESE are the plaintive expressions of victims of the disease known as arthritis. Arthritis drives millions of sufferers to their physicians each year seeking relief from the pain, immobility, and deformity it can cause.

In the United States alone, arthritis affects more than 42 million people, disabling 1 out of every 6 sufferers. In fact, arthritis is the leading cause of disability in that country. The economic impact of this disease is “roughly equivalent to a moderate recession,” states the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as it costs Americans over 64 billion dollars each year in medical expenses and lost productivity. According to the World Health Organization, surveys involving developing countries, such as Brazil, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand, showed that the burden of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases in such lands is almost “equal to that in the industrialized world.”

 It is a myth that arthritis is only a disease of the elderly. True, people are more seriously affected by it as they grow older. But one of the most common forms, rheumatoid arthritis, commonly affects those between the ages of 25 and 50. In the United States, nearly 3 out of every 5 people with arthritis are younger than 65 years of age. Similarly, in Great Britain, out of 8 million sufferers, 1.2 million are under age 45. More than 14,500 are children.

Each year, the number of arthritis sufferers increases rapidly. In Canada, within the next decade, the number of people with arthritis will increase by one million. While the prevalence of arthritis is greater in Europe than in Africa and Asia, the incidence of this disease is on the rise in those latter continents too. The rising tide of arthritic disease has thus prompted the World Health Organization to declare 2000-2010 the Bone and Joint Decade. During this time doctors and health-care professionals around the world will collaborate in an effort to improve the quality of life for those who suffer from musculoskeletal diseases like arthritis.

What is known about this painful disorder? Who are at risk for developing it? How can those who suffer from arthritis cope with its crippling effects? Will the future bring a cure? Our following articles will discuss these issues.

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X ray: Used by kind permission of the Arthritis Research Campaign, United Kingdom (www.arc.org.uk)