In my previous post, Can I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus?, I introduced the topic of comorbidity. Diseases are called comorbid when they exist at the same time and independently within the same patient. With the increasing interest in the field of comorbidity and rheumatic diseases, it becomes even more important for us as patients to discuss our experiences in living with more than one disease as awareness leads to empowerment.
How Common are Rheumatic Diseases?
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a division of the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 43 million people in the United States have arthritis or other rheumatic conditions. By the year 2020, this number is expected to reach 60 million. The more than 100 rheumatic diseases, characterized by inflammation and of loss of function in supporting or connecting structures of the body, are a more frequent cause of activity limitation than heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
Rheumatic diseases affect people of all races and ages. Some rheumatic conditions are more common among certain populations. For example:
* Rheumatoid arthritis occurs two to three times more often in women than in men.
* Scleroderma is more common in women than in men.
* Nine out of 10 people who have fibromyalgia are women.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease of the immune system which first targets the synovium, or lining of the joint, resulting in pain, stiffness, swelling, joint damage, and loss of function. Inflammation most often affects joints of the hands and feet and tends to occur symmetrically which helps to distinguish it from other diseases. The Arthritis Foundation estimates that 1.3 million Americans, or about 0.6 percent of the U.S. adult population, live with rheumatoid arthritis.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes pain throughout the tissues that support and move the bones and joints of the body. Pain, stiffness, and localized tender points occurs in the muscles and tendons, particularly those of the neck, spine, shoulders, and hips. Patients often experience fatigue and sleep disturbances. The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (CDC) adds that other symptoms may include tingling or numbness in hands and feet, headaches (including migraines), irritable bowel syndrome, and cognitive difficulties.
It is estimated that fibromyalgia affects 5 million Americans, or about 2 percent of the U.S. adult population. For unknown reasons 80 to 90 percent of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women, although men and children can be affected. People with certain rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis (spinal arthritis), may be more likely to have fibromyalgia, too.