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Imagine being a first-time mother whose hands and knees ache when she eases out of bed during the night to care for her baby.  Or a young adult struggling with swelling and stiffness on the job. Or an 86-year-old man who daily slips into a heated pool to swim away the pain of arthritis.

Dr. Shazia Bég, rheumatologist at UCF Pegasus Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice, said people of all ages can be affected by arthritis. Dr. Bég, who also serves as an assistant professor of medicine at the College of Medicine, spoke during an October 12 seminar in Avalon Park to raise awareness about arthritis, the leading cause of disability in the United States. The Florida chapter of the Arthritis Foundation and the Avalon Park Group, the community’s development company, organized the session.

“Arthritis is a big deal,” Dr. Bég told about 40 people at the Avalon Park South Village Clubhouse in Orlando.  “Imagine jars can’t be opened, children can’t be held, your shoes remain untied…This is often the life with a rheumatic disease.”

About 50 million adults and 300,000 children in the U.S. are affected by arthritis, Dr. Bég said.  In addition to the human toll, in 2003 arthritis and other rheumatic diseases costs $81 billion in medical care expenditures and $47 billion in lost earnings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although arthritis actually comprises more than 100 different diseases and conditions, Dr. Bég focused on the two most common types – osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

RA is a chronic, autoimmune disease that affects about 1.3 million adults and is characterized by inflammation of the lining of the joints, Dr. Bég said.  It can occur throughout the body, and its onset is primarily seen in adults between 20 and 50 years old, although children younger than 20 can develop it. Risk factors include genes, smoking and gender – women are more likely than men to be afflicted.

OA is a chronic disease characterized by the breakdown of cartilage – the part of the joint that cushions the ends of bones and allows easy movement. It most often occurs in the knees, hips, back and hands. It affects about 26.9 million adults, and is usually seen in people older than 50 but can occur in younger people. Risk factors include age, genetics, obesity and gender — again, women are more likely to be afflicted.

Although there is no cure for arthritis, there are a number of treatment options that can help. Dr. Bég said the main goal of arthritis management is improving mobility and quality of life, controlling inflammation, and preventing more joint? damage. Drug therapy, weight loss and moderate exercise such as tai-chi or swimming are important techniques, she said.

“Develop a good relationship with a doctor and ask questions,” Dr. Bég said. “You can also learn techniques about managing the disease from groups like the Arthritis Foundation.”

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