Dr. Randy Martin: Lately it seems like almost everyone has or at least knows someone who has arthritis. According to a recent report, we may not be far off base – nearly 25 percent of Americans suffer from some form of arthritis. To learn more, I met with Dr. William McClatchey, a rheumatologist at Piedmont Hospital.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2010 that two out of every nine Americans have arthritis (approximately 50 million people), making it one of the leading causes of disability in the country. But what exactly is arthritis?
William McClatchey, M.D., a board-certified internist and rheumatologist at Piedmont Hospital, says that arthritis refers to a symptom, not a diagnosis. He adds that it is important to distinguish between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
“It makes a big difference in terms of treatment and prognosis,” he says.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of this condition.
“It is a term that describes the same process as degenerative arthritis,” he says.
An Increasingly Common Condition
“It’s a huge problem,” Dr. McClatchey says. “Clearly, the obesity epidemic affecting Americans today has a tremendous impact [on the increase in cases of osteoarthritis].”
Proper care and treatment of your body is crucial, he says, comparing the aging process to car maintenance.
“If [you are] 65 years old, [it’s like having] 65,000 miles on your tires,” he explains. “If you’ve gone lickety-split around a lot of curves, you’re going to have more trouble than if you’ve gone at a low speed.”
Osteoarthritis typically occurs in the weight-bearing joints, such as the lower back, hips and knees, as well as in the hands. Common symptoms include pain after engaging in moderate physical activity and crepitus, which is a creaking in the joints caused by cartilage irregularity.
To treat osteoarthritis without surgery, “the first thing we do is make the accurate diagnosis and exclude other forms of arthritis [such as rheumatoid arthritis],” says Dr. McClatchey. “Beyond that, [we recommend] anti-inflammatory medication. These medications are really good at helping people with comfort level, pain and functionality.”
There are also lifestyle changes you can make to improve your arthritis symptoms, such as weight loss and – even though it sounds counterintuitive – exercise.
“It’s really not [counterintuitive],” he explains. “Exercise to maintain range of motion in the affected joints is really important, with one caveat: avoid [high]-impact exercises.”
If you are concerned that you may have arthritis, Dr. McClatchey recommends talking with your primary care physician first.
“For people who have more difficulty and need help, rheumatologists are here,” he says. “That’s what we do.”
Dr. Randy Martin: If you experience joint pain, talk with your primary care doctor to determine if you suffer from a form of arthritis. To prevent joint damage in the first place, maintain a healthy weight and stay active to maintain range of motion in your joints.