Dr. Randy Martin: It seems like everyone knows someone who has arthritis and in fact, a recent report suggested nearly 25 percent of us suffer from arthritis. I met with Dr. William McClatchey, a rheumatologist at Piedmont Hospital, to discuss this increasingly common affliction.
In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that two out of nine Americans (about 50 million) have arthritis.
According to William McClatchey, M.D., a board-certified internist and rheumatologist at Piedmont Hospital, “the word arthritis is a word like ‘fever’ or ‘rash;’ it is not a diagnosis, it is a symptom.” he says.
Dr. McClatchey notes that it is important to distinguish between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis because each condition has a different prognosis and treatment plan. “Rheumatoid arthritis is an active and systemic inflammatory process,” he says. “People who have this disease tell us they feel fatigued and can even feel like they are feverish at times. People will know they are ill; it is not just their joints that hurt.”
The main difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis is that with rheumatoid arthritis, “we see much more swelling in the small joints of the fingers and also the knees,” he explains. “The mean demographic for RA is younger woman, usually in her 30s or 40s. For reasons we still do not understand completely, RA is far more prevalent in women than in men. With osteoarthritis, the typical patient is an older person of either gender.”
Arthritis can be hereditary, says Dr. McClatchey, but it depends on the type of arthritis. “With rheumatoid arthritis, that risk is increased, but only slightly. For degenerative arthritis, the risk of inheriting the condition is higher.”
If someone is worried that he or she has arthritis, Dr. McClatchey recommends first discussing the concerns with a primary care physician. People who need more treatment, particularly those who show symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, might be referred to a rheumatologist.
Dr. Randy Martin: If you are experiencing pain and swelling in your joints, particularly in your hands, see your primary care physician. He or she can determine if you need to visit with a rheumatologist for diagnosis and treatment.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
- Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the joints. With this condition, the inflammation can become so severe that the appearance and function of the hands and other body parts can be affected.
- The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. Because it is an autoimmune disorder, the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues.
- Symptoms include pain that worsens with the movement of joints, stiffness, joint swelling, bumps over small joints and decreased movement.
- Depending on one’s age, overall heath and the extent of the condition, treatment can include splints, physical therapy, joint replacement surgery, surgical cleaning or joint fusion.