Welcome to Arthritis 101

Arthritis is a relatively common condition but it is still often misunderstood. For the nearly one in five adults in the United States who have arthritis, often the smallest tasks can be a big challenge, and not everyone who has arthritis is elderly.

We reached out to Karim Elsharkawy, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and joint-replacement specialist on the medical staff at Texas Health Allen and at Texas Center for Joint Replacement, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, to discuss arthritis in general and clear up common misconceptions about the condition.

“The main misconception about arthritis is that it’s a disease of old age,” he explains. “We see a lot of elderly people with no evidence of arthritis. The common causes for arthritis include increased stresses on the joint (increased weight and obesity) and old injuries around the joint from sports (like cruciate ligament and meniscus injuries), which can predispose a patient to early arthritis later in life. Around the hip, avascular necrosis (where the ball of the hip loses its blood supply) is one of the other causes we see for arthritis, especially in younger patients.

“There is also a genetic component, and we see a lot of patients with a history of arthritis in the family. This all pertains to osteoarthritis, but there are other causes, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and other entities.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2013 and 2015, just over 54 million American adults (22.7 percent) had been told they were experiencing some form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus or fibromyalgia. This means approximately one in six adults in every state is affected by arthritis, with one in four reporting the condition in the 15 states with the highest prevalence. Women also have a higher prevalence of arthritis than men in every state.

Among adults in Texas, 19.8 percent report suffering from arthritis, with the seven counties around North Texas seeing similar numbers:

  • Collin: 17.4 percent
  • Dallas: 20.3 percent
  • Denton: 18.6 percent
  • Ellis: 20.1 percent
  • Kaufman: 21.9 percent
  • Rockwall: 20.6 percent
  • Tarrant: 18.6 percent

Severe arthritis can affect a person’s ability to walk and move, and even limit their ability to perform in the workplace. As many as one in three working-age Americans (18-64 years) with arthritis report arthritis-attributable work limitations even in the states with the lowest prevalence, while nearly half of working arthritis sufferers report work limitations in states with the highest prevalence of arthritis-attributable work limitations. In Texas, the complement is 38.9 percent.

Elsharkawy says that while there are some steps people can take to prevent arthritis, unfortunately, there are no guarantees.

“The things that can help prevent arthritis are losing weight, better conditioning, aerobic exercises and avoiding high-impact activities,” he says. “That said, however, some patients will have arthritis no matter what.”

While arthritis refers to joint pain or disease, it’s an umbrella term for more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions. Swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion are the most common symptoms, and they can range widely in severity, may come and go, and can progress at varying rates. As a result, arthritis is sometimes hard to pinpoint and/or may be mistakenly blamed for a person’s aches and pains.

Elsharkawy says the source of a patient’s pain is often difficult to determine without testing.

Karim Elsharkawy, M.D., Orthopedic Surgeon

“Around the knee, it’s hard to distinguish what’s going on without an X-ray,” he explains. “However, a meniscus tear, a ligament sprain or bursitis around the knee can be commonly mistaken for arthritis. Bursitis is also commonly mistaken for arthritis around the hip, as arthritis pain is typically felt in the groin. Additionally, pain coming from the spine can be mistaken for hip arthritis. This is why testing is important to determine the root of a person’s pain. If a person’s pain or other symptoms are chronic, we recommend they come in for an evaluation.”

Find out more about how Texas Health cares for patients with arthritis and take the hip and knee assessment. To schedule an appointment with a joint health specialist through Texas Health Resources, visit TexasHealth.org/Find-A-Physician.

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