National Arthritis Awareness Month

In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially recognized what millions of people throughout the world already knew. That’s the year arthritis was officially identified as an important national health problem.

Every year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publishes a list of National Health Observance Days: days or months during which a selected health issue receives special attention. By designating these observance days, the HHS encourages states, counties, legislators, individuals, and health-related organizations to support activities that will meet three goals: provide education about the health risk; obtain new ideas about information and resources and topics of interest; and organize successful health promotion events and campaigns.

The HHS designated May as National Arthritis Awareness Month, and the Arthritis Foundation was chosen to lead and coordinate activities at both the national and regional levels.

Arthritis has an immense impact on society. The Arthritis Foundation recently published some startling facts about arthritis.

• Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in the United States.
• More than 52 million adults have arthritis.

• Some 300,000 children are affected with arthritis.

• Estimates suggest that by 2030, 67 million Americans will have arthritis.

• Arthritis costs our economy $128 billion annually in treatment and lost wages.

• Arthritis is a serious, painful, and debilitating disease that robs people of their
quality of life.

• Two-thirds of the people with arthritis are under the age of 65, directly challenging the concept that arthritis affects only old people.

• Arthritis more frequently limits people’s activities than heart disease, cancer, or diabetes does.

• Arthritis consists of more than 100 different diseases or conditions that destroy bones, joints, and connective tissue.

Numerous organizations can provide information on arthritis, but only a few organizations consider the dissemination of information on arthritis and its care as their prime directive and responsibility.

Arthritis Foundation ( The Arthritis Foundation is the leading non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention, control, and cure of arthritis in the United States. Its website provides information, services, and resources. Although most information focuses on osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and juvenile arthritis (JA), many care-related brochures are available, as is information on other types of arthritis such as fibromyalgia, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis. Information on services in your area can also be found, including fundraising activities and seminars. Reports on research, a major part of the Arthritis Foundation’s mission, can be found in the Arthritis Foundation’s Spotlight on Research publication. The website also posts notices of conferences, symposiums, and workshops that explain the latest research on topics ranging from osteoarthritis and new joint lubricants to repair and regeneration of joint tissue or tissue remodeling using stem cells. The information on the website can be used for public, patient, and professional seminars and programs.

American College of Rheumatology (ACR) ( The ACR is an organization for physicians and health professionals who treat disorders of joints, muscles, and bones. Information on medications, disease control, and resources is available on the website for members’ patients. Numerous professional development programs are provided and promoted throughout the United States. Much of this information can be printed from the website for distribution, and a daily research report titled “The Rheumatology Morning Wire” is provided via the website.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( Through the Healthy People 2010 and 2020 programs, the CDC identifies major health issues, problems, and diseases, and works to reduce their impact on cost and quality of life. As the population in the United States has aged, the CDC has increasingly focused on chronic disease; presently, the focus is on arthritis, osteoporosis, and chronic back conditions, with the goal of preventing illness and disability. Identifying risk factors—such as being overweight for OA—can help develop strategies to manage the problem. Presently, more than 20 states receive some funding for arthritis programs for their residents, including the Chronic Disease Management Program, the Arthritis Self-Management Program, and the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program. The CDC encourages collaboration between organizations that serve people with arthritis. All aspects of the program are described on its website.

The month of May is your opportunity to get the message out. Health promotion events and campaigns can be developed using the information from the organizations listed and other reputable sites—for example, a speaking engagement or a one-day educational symposium. The information provided by these organizations can be disseminated as patient or professional programs that offer ongoing activities for patients such as a self-help course or an exercise class.

Creative ideas for research studies that can direct new treatments, new programs, or future education can be developed using the information. A yearly public-health message campaign could be created using the available public relations, media, and health-related messages.

As the medical community has learned more about the many types of arthritis, professionals and patients alike have learned about risk factors for some types of arthritis. Some risk factors cannot be changed, but some can be managed—and risk factors that can be changed could be a topic for a health behavior educational program or intervention. For example, a risk factor that in most instances is controllable is weight. An educational lecture or weight loss program that could reduce the incidence of osteoarthritis could be the focus of a public health strategy presented in May.

Choosing May as the month to announce, present, or begin an activity creates multiple opportunities to learn about arthritis.

You may think health professionals are the only ones who can participate in projects for Arthritis Awareness Month, but you can do a lot to make people aware of the facts and the opportunities around arthritis.

With your family: Start a conversation with family members, either one on one or over a friendly family dinner. Have a pamphlet at hand that addresses questions your family may have, such as “How does someone get arthritis” or “Will I get arthritis?” This could be an opportunity to discuss how your arthritis impacts you or to mention that cutting your grass or opening the occasional jar would be a great way for your family members to help you out.

If someone in your family has arthritis, you could offer to take him or her out for lunch or shopping at the mail, knowing he or she may not be capable of walking a long distance. Perhaps you could find out what the person with arthritis specifically has difficulty with; if you know he or she is interested in a product that would help, look for one online or in a catalogue that features products for people with arthritis or for seniors.

As a parent: One of your children may have arthritis, or one of your child’s classmates may have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. You could use May as a month to share information on juvenile arthritis with your child’s teacher, or you could ask the teacher if a nurse could come talk to the class about arthritis.

You might get a team of people together to coordinate a fundraising event such as a Juvenile Arthritis Walk or Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis. Another way people volunteer is by communicating with state and U.S. senators and congressional representatives.

In May, you could contact the Arthritis Foundation and offer to take part in their educational efforts with legislators. Look into programs for kids with arthritis and their families such as Camp JA or JA regional educational programs.

At work: Take some arthritis information to your workplace. Distribute pamphlets to co-workers or leave pamphlets on tables in the conference or locker room. Start a conversation with co-workers by asking them how many types of arthritis there are or if they know anyone who has arthritis or who has had a joint replacement. Ask one of your health-care professionals if he or she would give a lunchtime talk. Ask your human resources department to help coordinate the program. Find out what arthritis fundraisers are being held in your area. Invite co-workers to participate in a walk or run. If your company sponsors a health fair, invite volunteers from the Arthritis Foundation to take part.

For an arthritis organization: Many organizations help people with arthritis. Some such as the Arthritis Foundation raise funds and awareness and help with community programs. Others offer direct care, such as home care, long-term care, or hospital and medical care. Contact any group you think helps people with arthritis to find out how arthritis affects the people they serve, what they need help with, and how you can help. Talk to your doctors to identify local needs and to get their suggestions.

If a local organization is holding a program, you could enlist the support of local professionals to promote it or help out at the event by checking people in or manning a table to present arthritis information. Perhaps the organization might want to help get a team together for a fundraising walk or run. Your leadership, enthusiasm, and willingness to help may make the difference.

With your doctor: Discuss National Arthritis Information Month with your doctor. He or she may know of programs that could use your help, or he or she can connect you with someone already volunteering. Your rheumatologist may need someone to help coordinate a seminar for family doctors, or perhaps patients with certain diseases are needed to study a new medication and your contact with other people with arthritis can help.

May can be a great month to hold programs for patients or health professionals. Many doctors and other health professionals enjoy helping patients by speaking at seminars or support groups—doctors sometime like to have patients speak to patients about medications or new treatments. You might also have a question or an issue that could become an interesting research project, such as how having arthritis affects a marriage. Your doctor or health-care professional can help you learn more or even support a research project to study the subject.

With your legislator: Legislators often aren’t aware of the existence, much less the seriousness, of the 100 types of arthritis. However, ask your legislators if he or she knows someone who has arthritis—this usually brings the subject close to home.

Educating both state and U.S. senators and congressional representatives about the issues and needs of patients, their families, and health-care professionals helps them understand and support legislation. Additionally, most legislators need to be educated about the strides being made in research and the need for ongoing funding for research. With the increase in the number of people with arthritis and the aging of the population, individuals live longer and often have to deal with a comorbidity—another disease along with arthritis—that makes participating in self-help behaviors more difficult. For example, when arthritis affects a person’s ability to exercise, how does that impact both that person’s arthritis and diabetes?

Legislators have offices in Washington and in your state. Remind them to continue funding arthritis research through the National Institutes of Health and the CDC’s public health self-management programs. Increased funding could make the CDC’s program available in all 50 states.

One of the most important ways you can help with Arthritis Awareness Month is as an advocate—and one of the best roles you can play is that of advocate for yourself.

Discussing problems with your doctors or health-care professionals, making sure your health insurance covers your needs, and educating yourself about medications, care options, and resources are all important. Being an advocate for yourself also includes participating in good care strategies, learning about and purchasing self-help aids to meet your needs and make chores easier, and learning about local resources.

Do your best to reduce the impact of arthritis in your home and work environment. For instance, purchase a lightweight vacuum or a comfortable mattress, or make sure your work chair and computer are set at the correct height for you. If you feel well, everything else will be easier—and if you’re feeling good, you are positioned to do the most to help with the National Arthritis Awareness Month activities on behalf of people with arthritis. Being an arthritis advocate and knowing what you do and say can make a difference for yourself and others can be a great feeling.

Your involvement and actions in National Arthritis Awareness Month activities can help meet the goals of the Department of Health and Human Services. Learn more about arthritis, about services in your area, and about how you can make a difference.

Wendy McBrair has spent 30 years as a health-care professional in the fields of rheumatology and orthopedics, where she specialized in patient and community service, patient education, and advocacy.

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