The symptoms of rheumatic disease were first formalized in 1680 by the British physician, Thomas Sydenham. At the time, he described the pain of acute gout flares in his patients as “so exquisite and lively…it cannot bear the weight of bedclothes nor the jar of a person walking into the room.”
As Sydenham observed, many types of arthritis can be painful and even disabling. Today’s treatments, including new pain relievers, Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs), and biologic agents can help reduce symptoms and slow the progression of arthritis. Surgery can repair joints, bones, and tendons damaged by arthritic disease. Lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise and assistive devices, make it possible for many people with arthritis to live fully functional, even active lives.
Approximately 50 million U.S. adults—about one in five—have physician-diagnosed arthritis. However, nearly one in three adults have arthritis or chronic joint symptoms. Arthritis is the most prevalent cause of disability in the United States, and results in upwards of 66 million physician visits each year.
As the population ages, the incidence of arthritis will rise dramatically and is expected to increase to 67 million by 2030. Arthritis will create an important public health problem as well as tremendous personal suffering. The societal costs of arthritis are immense. The estimated yearly medical care costs for arthritis total nearly $81 billion in the U.S. The cost of medical care plus lost work productivity is even larger—approximately $128 billion.
In general, rheumatic diseases are characterized by:
- Redness and/or heat in a joint
- Swelling in the joints
- Recurring or constant pain
- Decreased range of motion in joints
- Fever, weight loss, and fatigue — in some types of rheumatic disease.
- Loss of function in connective tissues
- Involvement of joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles
Rheumatic diseases are systemic and often involve internal organs. Though arthritis is a growing problem by virtue of demographics, the disease is also becoming increasingly manageable. With improved screening and today’s treatments, people with arthritis may live active, independent lives. Every effort should be made to protect sleep, preserve functional independence, and provide for effective pain management.
New research is also pointing the way toward increased knowledge about the causes of arthritis, which will ultimately improve available treatments. Appropriate diagnosis, comprehensive treatment, and prevention of complications will continue to improve in the next decade, enhancing quality of life for millions.
Rheumatic Disease and Arthritis are just two of the topics covered in our Homestudy Courses. Click below for more information.