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World Arthritis Day

By Chad Helmick, MD

Dr. Helmick is a medical epidemiologist with the CDC Arthritis Program, Division of Population Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Dr. Chad Helmick, MD

October 12th, 2012, is World Arthritis Day. As the day approaches, it is important to highlight this chronic disease that is the leading cause of disability in the United States. Often derided as an “old person’s” disease, arthritis is seen by many simply as an expected rite of passage with an inevitable decline. This view is far from the truth, since over 2/3 of adults with arthritis are under age 65, and since there are easy things people can do to manage their arthritis. As public health professionals, we need to dispel the myths and educate the public about arthritis. With that said, what is arthritis?

We in public health use the term arthritis to describe more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues that surround the joints, and other connective tissue. Typically, these conditions are characterized by pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints. The pattern, severity, and location of symptoms can vary, depending on the specific form of the disease.

Why should those interested in public health be interested in arthritis? I see three reasons: big numbers, comorbidity, and knowledge of things that can be done to help arthritis and other chronic disease problems.

Big numbers: Arthritis affects 50 million adults, limiting the activities of nearly 21 million, and is the most common cause of disability in the United States. By 2030 it is expected to affect 67 million adults and limit the activities of 25 million. The disease cost $128 billion in 2003.

Comorbidity: Arthritis affects more than half the adults who have diabetes or heart disease and a third of obese adults. This comorbidity is a problem; the pain of arthritis limits physical activity, which is an important management technique for all three of these conditions.

Knowledge of things that can be done:Physical activity is a universally recommended, proven intervention for arthritis (and these other conditions) that reduces pain and improves function and quality of life.

Similarly, self-management education is a universally recommended, proven intervention for arthritis (and these other conditions) that reduces pain and improves function. Unfortunately, even though self-management education programs are available across the country, few people with arthritis access those programs in their communities.

Visit the Arthritis web site to learn more.

 
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