What is arthritis?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the word arthritis literally means joint inflammation. Arthron means joint (in Greek) and itis means inflammation (in Latin). The umbrella term arthritis is used to describe more than 100-150 rheumatic diseases and conditions which affect joints and tissues surrounding joints, as well as other connective tissue disease.
The CDC estimates that 22 percent of U.S. adults (approx. 50 million people aged 18 years or older) report that a doctor has diagnosed them with “some form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, or fibromyalgia?” It is also estimates that 9 percent of U.S adults (or 21 million people) report being limited in usual activities because of arthritis or joint symptoms.
When I examined the list of 100 forms of “arthritis and related diseases” provided by the Arthritis Foundation, I discovered diseases which I would have (as a layperson) thought to be rheumatic in nature, but which I did not associate with arthritis necessarily.
For instance, Raynaud’s syndrome is among the list of 100. I asked my mother, “did you know that Raynaud’s disease is listed as a type of arthritis?” She lives with this disease and responded, “No How is that a type of arthritis?” We had a brief discussion on the way the list of 100 was presented and I noted that it includes diseases which can cause secondary arthritis-like symptoms, diseases which affect connective tissue, and even diseases related to the vascular system. Additional examples which gave me pause include fibromyalgia, plantar fasciitis, lupus, scleroderma, and carpal tunnel syndrome. I knew that these involved inflammation, but I never thought of them as being categorized this way.
The revelation that the legendary “more than 100 types of arthritis” may include diseases which really aren’t arthritis at all made me slightly confused. Perhaps we really should stress that this tremendous list includes diseases affecting not only the joints but connective tissue too. To help illustrate the list of 100 forms of arthritis found on the Arthritis Foundation website, I created this Wordle. I think it presents an interesting representation of the many diseases included under the umbrella term, arthritis.
With so many types of “arthritis” and diseases which cause arthritis-like symptoms, no wonder it can be confusing or ambiguous when someone says, “I have arthritis.”
It is much easier to assume that “arthritis” really just refers to the most common form of disease which is osteoarthritis. Developing osteoarthritis is more common as persons age and is caused by normal “wear and tear” on the body and joints. Last fall I learned that I have developed bone spurs under my knee caps. This is a very early sign of osteoarthritis in my knees. Although I already have rheumatoid arthritis, it doesn’t preclude me from accumulating other forms of arthritis such as osteoarthritis. One disease doesn’t prevent the other.
However the ambiguity of “arthritis” can be a source of frustration and annoyance for persons who live with a different form of disease other than the very common osteoarthritis. I know that there are a large portion of rheumatoid arthritis patients who become intolerant of those who misunderstand or dismiss their RA by saying things like “oh, I have arthritis too and Tylenol takes care of the pain; you should try taking that” or “you are too young to have arthritis” or “you should take glucosamine, it really helps my joints.”
As May is Arthritis Awareness Month, it is vital that we help to spread awareness of ALL forms of arthritis and related diseases of the joints and surrounding tissues. Check out the Arthritis Foundation’s list and let me know which are new to you or which surprise you to see listed.
Also please visit our Arthritis Awareness area – we’re adding new content several times each week. Don’t forget to enter MyRACentral’s weekly contests throughout the month of May! Follow MyRACentral on Facebook or Twitter to get regular updates of new content and contests!
Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.