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Early Detection Key In Managing Arthritis, Experts Say

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Doctors say about one out of every five Americans suffer from some form of arthritis, with numbers expected to soar even higher in the coming decades. NY1's Kafi Drexel filed the following report.

Arthritis patient Maria Onoya was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory form of the disease, just over four years ago. The same goes for Joanna Bonaro, who was diagnosed about 10 years ago.

"I had trouble waking up in the morning, getting dressed, actually lifting or opening bottles, or cooking, lifting a pot," said Onoya.

"It was very immediate and abrupt I just woke up one morning with my left hand, the finger swollen and painful and I couldn’t really bend or move them and it just happened over night," said Bonaro.

While both women are able to manage their condition with treatment and medication, they are representative of a staggering statistic of about 21 million adults across the country living with arthritis -- a number that's expected to increase to about 67 million within the next two decades, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

While different forms of arthritis can hit pretty much any age group, experts say an aging population and rising obesity rates could be increasing the risk.

"As people are heavier they may not move as well, they may put more pressure on the joints and accelerate the amount of osteoarthritis we see," said Dr. Bruce Solitar of NYU Langone Medical Center, Tisch Hospital.

But doctors are quick to point out there have been major advances in treatment.

"It’s not something where you should just say, 'Well I’m getting older so that’s what I have.' Although we are not at a point where we can cure it with rheumatoid, we can often put it into remission where a person feels like they don’t have the arthritis and needs to continue medication but otherwise is doing very well. And with osteoarthritis we can do dramatic things to make people more functional," said Dr. Ted Fields, Hospital For Special Surgery.

Not only can getting treatment early help patients better manage arthritis, but it can also help lessen what's become a pretty big financial burden for the entire health care system.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, degenerative and inflammatory diseases cost the U.S. economy $128 billion a year.

"The costs are really huge that $128 billion is not surprising because when you think one-fifth of all Americans have some form of arthritis, and not just they think they do but their doctor has diagnosed it and think of all the days lost from work, people have to retire early, people are just not functioning the way they should. The costs are huge," Fields said.

The Arthritis Foundation currently has a pilot program underway to help New Yorkers recognize the signs of rheumatoid arthritis and get an earlier diagnosis.

By calling the toll-free number 1-866-720-4297, New York area residents can participate in screening questionnaires over the phone to help them determine if they need follow-up care.

For more information, visit www.arthritis.org.

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