September is Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month

Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month (RDAM) was created by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) to raise awareness about rheumatic diseases and the more than 52.5 Americans who live with them. Rheumatic diseases can affect joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles. Some rheumatic diseases can also affect the organs. 

Rheumatic diseases include lupus, spondyloarthropathies, and many types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and osteoarthritis. It is estimated that 22.7% (54.4 million) of adults in the U.S. have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, with significantly higher age-adjusted prevalence in women (23.5%) than in men (18.1%). The prevalence of activity limitationsamong American Indian/Alaska Natives with arthritis is 51.6%, followed by multi-race, non-Hispanic (50.5%) and African American/Black, non-Hispanic (48.6%).

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis, affecting more than 32.5 million adultsin the U.S. It is also among the most expensive conditions to treat when joint replacement surgery is required. In fact, OA was the second most costly health condition treated at U.S. hospitals in 2013. In that year, it accounted for $16.5 billion, or 4.3%, of the combined costs for all hospitalizations. OA also was the most expensive condition for which privately insured patients were hospitalized, accounting for more than $6.2 billion in hospital costs.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common type of lupus. SLE is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected organs. It can affect the joints, skin, brain, lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels. There is no cure for lupus, but medical interventions and lifestyle changes can help control it. The causes of SLE are unknown, but are believed to be linked to environmental, genetic, and hormonal factors.

Recent studies indicate that lupus incidence rates are almost three times higher in Black women than white women and affect 1 in 537 young African American women. Black women tend to develop lupus at a younger age, experience more serious complications and have higher mortality rates—up to three times the mortality rate of white women

There are many things people can do to help manage lupus, arthritis, and other rheumatic diseases.

  • Exercise can reduce joint pain and stiffness. It also helps with losing weight, which reduces stress on the joints. Speak with a doctor about a safe, well-rounded exercise program.
  • Diet is especially important for patients with gout. Avoid alcohol and foods such as liver, kidney, sardines, anchovies, and gravy.
  • Heat and cold therapies can reduce joint pain and swelling.
  • Relaxation therapy can help reduce pain by teaching ways to relax the muscles.
  • Splints and braces can support weakened joints or allow them to rest. Talk with a doctor to make sure splints or braces fit well. 
  • Assistive devices, such as a cane or shoe insert, can ease pain when walking. Other devices can help open jars, close zippers, or hold pencils.

Celebrate Rheumatic Awareness Month by visiting rheumatology.org for more information about rheumatic diseases and how to manage one’s health. Also, check out ACR’s newly redesigned lupusinitiative.org to access a large collection of free educational resources for healthcare providers (including lupus CME/MOC activities), and a wealth of information for persons living with lupus and their supporters. 

Read more from the August 2020 issue of Impact Brief below.

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