It’s a condition that affects individuals of all ages, including children, and occurs in both males and females. Although “arthritis” is a general term used to describe joint pain, there are approximately 70 million adults nationwide that suffer from some form of this condition.
“Typically, we divide joint symptoms into two main categories, those conditions that are degenerative or ‘wear-and-tear’ related, and those conditions that are inflammatory,” says Dr. Lynne Peterson, rheumatologist at Medcenter One.
Dr. Peterson completed her Rheumatology Fellowship at Mayo Clinic in 1996 and began practicing at Medcenter One the same year. She has taken part in national clinical arthritis research projects for the past 15 years and has also been named Clinical Researcher of the Year for the Rheumatoid Arthritis Investigational Network on multiple occasions.
“The symptoms of arthritis vary according to the type of joint condition,” she says. “The most common symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, swelling, difficulty moving a joint or redness of a joint. Children often present with a limp or refusal to walk.”
According to the national Arthritis Foundation, the most common types of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile arthritis. Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common, affecting 27 million people nationwide. It is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the joint’s cartilage. Rheumatoid arthritis is also a chronic disease, characterized by the inflammation of the lining of the joints and can lead to long-term joint damage, chronic pain, loss of function and disability. Juvenile arthritis refers to any form of arthritis or arthritis-related condition that develops in children under 16 years of age. It affects nearly 300,000 children in the United States.
Dr. Peterson says significant strides have been made in the treatment options for arthritis patients, especially those with rheumatoid arthritis. “Multiple medications are available for rheumatoid arthritis, including anti-inflammatory agents, steroids, disease modifying agents, and the newer biologic agents. Osteoarthritis, or degenerative arthritis, is typically treated with physical therapy, pain control, splints, steroid injections, and surgery. Unfortunately, we do not have a drug to reverse osteoarthritis.”
She notes there are measures individuals can take to help prevent arthritis, including exercise, smoking cessation, prevention of injuries and weight loss.
Anne West was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1996. “I was down in Texas for the winter and got very sick with a lot of pain,” she says of her first experience with the symptoms of the disease. “I was one of Dr. Peterson’s first patients in Bismarck. I knew she was trained at Mayo and I was waiting to see her when she got set up here.”
West has worked with Dr. Peterson to control the symptoms of her rheumatoid arthritis primarily with medication, but she has had both her knees replaced and surgery on both hands as a result of the condition. “I exercise an hour a day on a recumbent bike and I know that also helps,” West adds.
As a professional artist, she says the condition has not slowed her ability to create works of art and instruct individuals on the craft of painting. “I think people expect you to be crippled and I am not,” she says.
Many misconceptions exist today related to arthritis, notes Dr. Peterson. “Often people think arthritis is just aches and pains, and little can be done to alleviate the pain and disability of arthritis,” she notes. “But significant advances in treatment have occurred in the past few years, especially for inflammatory arthritis. It is important to seek medical attention early to avoid delay in diagnosis and to potentially start treatment before joint damage occurs.”
West also encourages those experiencing the symptoms of arthritis to seek medical attention. “That is what is going to help,” she says. “If an individual thinks they have arthritis, I would highly recommend Dr. Peterson. She is a great doctor.”
Both West and Dr. Peterson say raising awareness of arthritis is an important step to the continued research and treatment of its conditions. The Arthritis Walk is held each spring across the nation to help raise awareness of the disease. The event brings together community members to promote movement and raise funds for arthritis research, education and life improvement programs.
This year’s Bismarck-Mandan Arthritis Walk will take place on Saturday, May 5 at the Medcenter One Women’s Health Center. Registration begins at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 10 a.m. “The event is a fun-filled morning which includes a health fair, kid’s zone, warm-up exercises, one- or three-mile walk and door prizes,” says Dr. Peterson.
“Arthritis is a common and often, debilitating disorder,” she continues. “It is important to have ongoing joint problems evaluated to assess the type of arthritis and treatment recommendations. Although we do not have a cure for arthritis, the treatment options may put the arthritis into remission so that joint damage does not occur.”
Additional information on arthritis, along with a variety of resources for arthritis patients and their families, is available on The Arthritis Foundation website at www.arthritis.org.