Arthritis is often referred to as a single disease. In fact, it is an umbrella term for more than 100 medical conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, specifically joints where two or more bones meet.
Arthritis-related problems include pain, stiffness, inflammation and damage to joint cartilage (the tissue that covers the ends of bones, enabling them to move against each another) and surrounding structures. This can result in joint weakness, instability and deformities that can interfere with the most basic daily tasks such as walking, driving a car and preparing food.
Arthritis is the major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia, with 3.85 million Australians affected at a cost to our economy of more than $23.9 billion each year in medical care and indirect costs such as loss of earnings and lost production.
As the population ages, the number of people with arthritis is growing. According to leading researcher Access Economics, current trends suggest that, by 2050, 7 million Australians will suffer from some form of arthritis.
There is a widely held belief that arthritis is simply a consequence of age, the pain of growing old. But it is not a natural part of ageing. In fact 2.4 million of all people suffering from the disease are of working age.
Research suggests that early intervention can delay the onset of the disease and may reduce the number of cases of osteoarthritis by about 500,000 within 15 years.
While there are about 100 forms of arthritis, the three most significant – osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout – account for more than 95 per cent of cases in Australia.
Arthritis is not yet curable. While the condition is usually manageable, it invariably impacts on a patient’s quality of life and includes varying degrees of discomfort and pain.
The most common forms of arthritis are:
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