Coping with Arthritis in Its Many Forms
Research Under Way continued...
Increased knowledge of immunology and the inflammatory
process offers more immediate promise. Researchers have developed a drug that
blocks the effects of TNF-alpha, an inflammatory protein responsible for
reactions resulting in joint damage. In short-term preliminary trials, the drug
significantly reduced symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Such results are encouraging, but the ultimate goal is to
understand what starts the immune response in the first place. "Until you
know the real cause, you're not going to have the right drug," Ginsburg
That quest continues and offers hope. But short of a cure,
enlightened coping may be the most promising avenue to a less taxing life for
people with arthritis.
Common Types of Arthritis
Of more than 100 different kinds of arthritis, these are the
Also called degenerative arthritis. Occurs when the
cushioning cartilage in a joint breaks down. Commonly affects feet, knees,
hips, and fingers. Affects 16 million Americans, mostly 45 and older. About
half of those 65 and older have this form.
Immune system attacks the lining, or synovial membrane, of
the joints. Joint damage can become severe and deforming. Involves the whole
body, and may also cause fatigue, weight loss and anemia, and affect the lungs,
heart and eyes. Affects about 2.1 million Americans, three times more women
Causes sudden, severe attacks, usually in the big toe, but
any joint can be affected. A metabolic disorder in which uric acid builds up in
the blood and crystals form in joints and other places. Drugs and attention to
diet can control gout. Affects about 1 million Americans (70 to 80 percent
men), with first attack starting between 40 and 50 years of age. (See
"Getting to Know Gout," FDA Consumer, March 1995.)
A chronic inflammatory disease of the spine that can result
in fused vertebrae and rigid spine. Often milder and harder to diagnose in
women. Most people with the disease also have a genetic marker known as
HLA-B27. Affects about 318,000 Americans, usually men between the ages of 16
The most common form is juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
Arthritis diagnosis, treatment, and disease characteristics are different in
children and adults. Some children recover completely; others remain affected
throughout their lives. Affects about 200,000 Americans.
Bone and other joint tissues become inflamed, and, like
rheumatoid arthritis, it can affect the whole body. Affects about 5 percent of
people with psoriasis, a chronic skin disease. Likely to affect fingers or
spine. Symptoms are mild in most people but can be quite severe. Affects about
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Involves skin, joints, muscles, and sometimes internal
organs. Symptoms usually appear in women of childbearing age but can occur in
anyone at any age. Also called lupus or SLE, it can be mild or life
threatening. Affects at least 131,000 Americans, nine to ten times as many
women as men.