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Front Page » April 10, 2008 » Senior focus » The pain of it all...
Published 2,739 days ago

The pain of it all...

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As most middle-aged men and women would attest, an aging body is one that experiences more than a few changes. Among the more common changes is a decrease in vision or hearing and a reduction in how much exercise the body can take. While everyone's body is different, it's safe to say both men and women can expect a change or two in their body's makeup as they get older.

One of the most common chronic health problems among Americans is arthritis, which affects 46 million adults in the United States alone. While most people are aware of the word "arthritis," they might not be aware of the specifics surrounding these conditions.

Because of this May will be National Arthritis Month, a time to become aware of this disease that affects all ages, but particularly the elderly.

Unbeknownst to many people, arthritis is not actually a single disease. In fact, arthritis refers to more than 100 medical conditions. And though arthritis is commonly associated with senior citizens, it is not restricted to the older set. While the most common form of arthritis generally afflicts those over the age of 60, young adults, the middle-aged and even infants are not immune to arthritis.

So why is arthritis such a blanket term? All types of arthritis share one commonality, which is they affect the musculoskeletal system, in particular the body's joints. Arthritic conditions can result in pain, stiffness and inflammation of the joints and can cause damage to a joint's cartilage as well. Damaged cartilage can make seemingly ordinary tasks such as brushing your teeth, walking or even using your computer's keyboard very difficult.

While joint problems are the piece that links all types of arthritis, the damage done by arthritis can extend beyond the joints as well. Systemic arthritis can affect the body's major organs, such as the heart, lungs and kidneys, among other things.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than half those affected with arthritis are under the age of 65. Those numbers include the nearly 300,000 children who suffer from an arthritic condition.

As for men and women, women are more likely to be stricken with arthritis. Of the more than 41 million cases of doctor diagnosed arthritis, roughly 24 million are women.

Though there are more than 100 medical conditions classified under the umbrella term arthritis, the following types are a few that qualify.

•Rheumatoid arthritis: This affects mostly women and is one of the most disabling forms of arthritis. It's serious because, as the joint becomes inflamed, it has an adverse affect on the body's immune system.

•Juvenile arthritis: Like the term "arthritis," juvenile arthritis is a general term and refers to a handful of arthritic conditions affecting children.

•Fibromyalgia: This can be very painful, affecting the muscles and attachments to the bone. Rare in men, fibromyalgia mainly affects women. Fibromyalgia is the most common widespread chronic pain condition in the United States, affecting more than six million Americans. But, findings from two new surveys commissioned by the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) show there is still much to be learned about this debilitating condition.

A survey of the general public shows nearly half (45%) of respondents have never heard of fibromyalgia. Furthermore, among those surveyed who are aware of fibromyalgia, the survey finds some misperceptions. Almost one in five participants (18%) who report having knowledge of fibromyalgia incorrectly believe the condition is preventable. Others incorrectly classify fibromyalgia as an autoimmune disease (32 poercent) or type of arthritis (28 percent). A separate survey of physicians further showcases the need for more fibromyalgia education, with the majority (82 percent) agreeing there is a need for more medical education and patient information.

The NFA just launched an educational awareness campaign that aims to increase understanding of fibromyalgia. The campaign, supported through a sponsorship by Pfizer, includes an interactive Web site,, that provides a series of patient education materials, resources and tools.

"While the pain of fibromyalgia can be relentless, people with the condition usually don't look sick, so it can be difficult for their families, friends, colleagues and healthcare providers to understand the serious impact of the condition," said Lynne Matallana, founder and president of the NFA, and a fibromyalgia sufferer.

Arthritis can make something as simple as typing on a keyboard a painful and laborious process.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by a unique kind of persistent pain which is usually accompanied by poor sleep, stiffness and fatigue. It is most common in women, though men can suffer from the condition, too. Because of its debilitating nature, fibromyalgia often hampers a person's ability to work and engage in everyday activities.

"People with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia have struggled with their symptoms for many years," said Dr. I. Jon Russell, associate professor of medicine in the division of clinical immunology and rheumatology and director of the university clinical research center, University of Texas Health Science Center. "What they're looking for is not only information about the disorder, but also an understanding of their struggle."

The outlook for people with fibromyalgia has never been better.

"Knowledge is power," Matallana said. "There is help and support for patients, including new treatment advances to manage the condition."

•Gout: Unlike fibromyalgia, gout affects mostly men and is often the result of a defect in body chemistry, one that can be brought on by poor diet. Fortunately, gout, which often attacks the big toe, can typically be controlled by both medications and by making positive changes in diet.

About 5.1 million people in the United States live with gout, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III, 1988-1994.

Gout is the most frequently found form of inflammatory arthritis in middle aged men and affects approximately three times as many men as it does women.

Gout is mentioned often in history books, and was once very strictly associated with a rich diet. However there are many factors that cause gout.

Gout attacks are caused by inflammation when needle-like particles occur in connective tissue and/or in the fluid that cushions joints. The particles are made up of uric acid. This substance is produced by the body when it breaks down various foods that are taken into a body. Uric acid usually passes through the kidneys and is eliminated, but if the body produces too much or the kidneys aren't working correctly, it can build up in the blood stream. This condition is called hyperuricemia, but this doesn't necessarily lead to gout.

When gout flares up it usually starts with sudden, severe pain, tenderness, redness, warmth, and swelling in the large joint of the big toe. Other joints may be affected too. After about a week the attack often goes away and another may not occur for a very long time. But the future usually holds more attacks that become stronger and more frequent, often causing damage to joints.

These days treatments are available that can help control the symptoms. These treatments may include different kinds of medications that can slow down the attacks and prevent joints from being damaged.

•Osteoarthritis: This occurs as bone cartilage begins to deteriorate. As the cartilage at the ends of bones deteriorates, bone begins to rub against bone, making osteoarthritis one of the more painful and difficult to live with forms of arthritis. The most prevalent form of arthritis, osteoarthritis greatly limits a person's movements as the cartilage continues to deteriorate.

To learn more about arthritis and its many forms, visit the Arthritis Foundation Web site at

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