A new American study has showed that a particular group of its citizens; mainly those aged between 46 and 64 years, take the lion's share of the arthritis population, as well as its costs to economy.
Lead researcher of the study, Edward Yelin, professor of medicine and health at the University of California, San Francisco and his team state that those with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions have increased to more than 46 million, approximately 21 percent of the population, and treatment costs have now touched $80.8 billion.
The new figures are a significant increase over the nearly 37 million people who suffered from these conditions in 1997.
Says Louise Murphy, an Atlanta epidemiologist who worked on the report: "The $81 billion figure represents three percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Something must be done to turn these figures around."
"An aging population isn't something that we can control, but you can try to make the population healthier. We really have to push public health programs that improve food consumption and the ability to exercise", says Yelin.
These figures were derived from the Medical Expenditures Panel Study, a national probability sample of households. The researchers recorded medical care costs for adult respondents as against arthritis status. They used regression techniques to assess the medical care expenditures attributable to arthritis and related rheumatic diseases, plus individual loss of income.
According to the researchers, this is not the end of the story. The number of persons with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions is projected to increase steadily to nearly 67 million by 2030, and that means the economic impact is likely to parallel this.
The study also reported that the jump in the number of arthritis sufferers meant that raw earnings losses due to arthritis among working adults (ages 18-65) increased by $9 billion from 1997 to 2003, although on a per-person basis during the same time period, the amount of lost wages slightly decreased for working adults, from $4,551 to $3,613.
"Why? I think it has to do with the state of the labor market at the two points, but this is pure speculation. The important point is that population growth meant a substantial national impact, even though on a personal level, on average, there was a lower figure", opines Yelin.
According to Dr. Doyt Conn, professor of medicine and director of the division of rheumatology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, the study highlighted the health care consequences of treating the large aging population. In particular, he noted the jump in drug costs facing arthritis sufferers -- $1,635 per person in 2003 versus $899 in 1997.
Says Yelin: "Our nation is going to have to confront this issue and see if we can do a good job with reducing the cost of drugs."
Murphy said she and her colleagues were surprised to find the cost increases were mostly attributable to people rather than procedures.
"We thought that the average costs [of treating arthritis and other rheumatic conditions] would increase because of the cost of the costly drugs, and the increased number of hip and knee surgeries," she said. Instead, they learned that while per-person spending for prescription drugs did climb sharply, almost doubling during the six-year period, other costs, including hospital stays, dropped enough so that actual per-person spending remained unchanged.
"We found that the driving reason for the higher spending was the increase in the number of people with arthritis", says Murphy.
Murphy urges those with arthritis to become proactive in reducing their pain and improving their health.
"There are ways to cope with arthritis pain through self-management and through weight loss," she opines.