Arthritis Becoming More Common As Population Ages

By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter
By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter

Knoxville (WVLT) - One in five adult Americans has arthritis and the cost to treat the condition jumped 25 percent in just six years.

The total annual tab to care for arthritis patients is $81 billion. And leading the surge, Baby Boomers moving into late middle age.

Rhonda Byrd is one of the 46 million Americans now suffering from arthritis.

"Painful walking, going up and down stairs."

And the amount Americans are spending to treat it more than doubled between 1997 and 2003.

"It seems like we're seeing more and more patients with either some type of arthritic condition, whether it be in their 30's or whether they be in their 60's or 70's." Orthopaedic Surgeon Doctor Rick Parsons says there are more than 100 types of arthritis, or joint inflammation.

The cartilage covering the end of the bones has worn away and without that protection, the bones begin to rub against each other, and that friction leads to pain and swelling that can be debilitating.

And in fact, spending for prescription drugs to treat arthritis nearly doubled during the six years the study was conducted.

The study's authors recommend public health programs that improve food consumption and the ability to exercise.

"As we're getting older, more of us are staying more active than we were before, so we're expecting more from our bodies. The other thing is, we're also getting heavier," says Dr. Parsons.

In addition to anti-inflammatory medications, Rhonda Byrd uses exercise to treat her arthritic symptoms, and to try to help avoid future problems. "As we age, just try to, more preventative now, so it won't get worse as I get older."

Until the cost of medications gets under control, exercise might be the best step arthritis sufferers can take in reducing their pain and improving their health.

The study's authors say besides soaring costs to treat arthritis, we're also seeing a shift in the burden of that cost onto patients who rely on Medicare, and pay for a large share of their drug treatments from their own pockets.

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