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Arthritis afflicts about 1 in 4 adults in the U.S., CDC report finds

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About one in four adults in the United States suffers from arthritis, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vital Signs report published Tuesday.

Of the 54 million adults in the United States who have this debilitating condition, not all are elderly. About 60 percent of those with arthritis were between the ages of 18 and 64, that is, working age. Activity limitations from arthritis increased by 20 percent since 2002, the report found. Simple, everyday tasks, such as walking or lifting bags, are challenging for 24 million people affected by the condition in the United States.

Even though movement is painful and difficult for people with arthritis, the report suggests that increased physical activity can mitigate arthritis symptoms by 40 percent. Despite the proven health benefits of physical activity for arthritis symptoms, about 1 in 3 adults with arthritis in the United States self-reports being physically inactive.

Arthritis is typically treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics, among other types of medication, including opioids. However, the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain recommends use of other strategies known to have less risk associated with them, such as exercise therapy.

Other coping strategies for arthritis symptoms, such as interventions to help people understand and manage the disorder, can help boost people's confidence when dealing with the condition and reduce pain, stress, depression and fatigue by 10 to 20 percent, the report found. But only 1 in 10 adults takes part in such education programs in the United States. They are more likely to participate in these programs if a health-care provider recommends them, according to the report.

The report found that prevalence of arthritis among adults with preexisting conditions, such as heart disease and obesity, is high. About half of all the adults diagnosed with heart disease had arthritis, and nearly one-third of adults who were obese had arthritis. These conditions in combination with arthritis can be difficult to manage, according to the report.

The researchers analyzed data collected between 2013 and 2015 from the National Health Interview Survey, which is a nationally representative annual in-person interview survey of the health status and behaviors of the non-institutionalized civilian U.S. adult population.

The study has some limitations. Among other things, people who responded to the survey self-reported that a doctor diagnosed them with arthritis, which was not confirmed by a health-care professional. Social desirability might have also biased people’s responses about their level of physical activity in daily life.

Because so few people participate in education programs for arthritis self-management strategies or are physically active, the CDC hopes to conduct future research to convince people to become more active and learn more about self-management strategies for arthritis, said Charles Helmicka senior medical epidemiologist with the Arthritis Program at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, part of the CDC.

"Over the course of the last 15 or 20 years, the burden of arthritis has only been growing," said Rowland Chang, a professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, a rheumatologist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and chair of the Arthritis Foundation's Board of Directors.

Like the CDC, the Arthritis Foundation hopes to improve the lives of people with arthritis.

"The foundation really believes we need to accelerate research into the pharmaceutical side to find better treatments for osteoarthritis because if we don't, we won't be able to bend the cost curve in this country," Chang said.

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