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Arthritis at a Glance

Arthritis comprises more than 100 different rheumatic diseases and conditions, the most common of which is osteoarthritis. Other frequently occurring forms of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and gout.

Although arthritis is more common among adults aged 65 years or older, people of all ages (including children) can be affected. Nearly two-thirds of people with arthritis are younger than age 65.  In addition, arthritis is more common among women than men in every age group, and it affects members of all racial and ethnic groups.

An estimated 46 million U.S. adults (about 1 in 5) report doctor-diagnosed arthritis, according to annual estimates. As the U.S. population ages, these numbers are expected to increase sharply. In fact, the number of adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis is projected to increase to 67 million by 2030, and more than one-third of these adults will have limited activity as a result. In addition, a recent study indicated that some form of arthritis affects 1 in every 250 children.

“Public health in the future will be increasingly about improving the quality of life, not merely its length. Arthritis, with the pain and limitation it inflicts on millions of our people, young and old, sits right in the center of that future,” James S. Marks, MD.

In 2003, the total cost of arthritis was $128 billion, including $81 billion in direct costs (medical) and $47 billion in indirect cost (lost earnings). This total is equal to 1.2% of the 2003 U.S. gross domestic product. Each year, arthritis results in 992,100 hospitalizations and 44 million outpatient visits. This is a high cost to Americans.

A recent community study estimated that the lifetime risk of developing knee osteoarthritis, serious enough to cause painful symptoms is 45%. Risk increases to 57% among people with a past knee injury. Lifetime risk for knee osteoarthritis also goes up with increased weight, and 3 in 5 people who are obese are at risk.

Arthritis makes it more difficult for people to be physically active, and not being physically active is a risk factor for many chronic diseases.  More than half of adults with diabetes or heart disease also have arthritis. Research shows that pain, fear of pain, fear of worsening symptoms or damaging joints, and lack of information on how to exercise safely prevent people with arthritis from being physically active.

It is important to learn techniques to manage arthritis. For people living with arthritis, physical activities such as walking,, bicycling, and swimming have been shown to have significant benefits, including reducing pain and improving physical function, mental health, and quality of life.