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American College of Rheumatology Designates September “Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month” in the U.S.

ATLANTA, GA – With rheumatic diseases now regarded as the nation’s leading cause of disability – affecting nearly one in four Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has designated September as Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month (RDAM) to call greater attention to this growing healthcare crisis.  

More than 52 million Americans – young and old – live with rheumatic diseases. Today, more than 300,000 children are among the millions of Americans suffering from chronic, progressive and often debilitating illnesses that are frequently underdiagnosed, or misdiagnosed, due to unusual symptoms and a national shortage of trained rheumatologists.

As the nation’s leading cause of disability, rheumatic diseases cost the U.S. healthcare system more than $128 billion each year.  Rheumatic diseases – which include rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, gout, Sjögren’s, juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and hundreds of lesser-known conditions – are painful diseases that affect the body’s joints and muscles. Some, like osteoarthritis, are the result of cartilage breakdown in the body’s joints.  Others, like RA and lupus, are autoimmune conditions.

Because rheumatic disease symptoms can be difficult to pinpoint and are sometimes dismissed as merely the aches and pains of getting older, people living with these diseases may go years before seeking treatment or receiving a correct diagnosis. Although there is no cure for rheumatic disease, early intervention by a trained rheumatologist can help patients manage symptoms and maintain a normal quality of life.

Symptoms of rheumatic disease vary by person and condition, but may include:

  • Joint or muscle pain, inflammation, swelling, redness, or stiffness;
  • Eye irritation and inflammation;
  • General fatigue, malaise, and fevers;
  • Hair loss;
  • Dry eyes or mouth;
  • Chest pain; and
  • Seizures or stroke.

“No one should have to live with chronic, persistent, and seemingly mysterious pain, so it is important to know what symptoms to look for and when to seek a referral to a trained rheumatology specialist,” said Dr. Joan Von Feldt, MD, MSEd, president of the ACR.  “Seeing a rheumatologist within the first weeks and months of disease onset – what rheumatologists call the ‘window of opportunity’ – can dramatically improve long-term outcomes for patients.”

Once diagnosed, people living with rheumatic diseases can face significant healthcare obstacles, including a shortage of trained rheumatologists to treat their conditions and expensive co-pays for specialty therapies.

“Unfortunately, too many of our patients struggle to access and afford effective care and treatments for their rheumatic diseases,” said Dr. Von Feldt. “Therefore, in addition to increasing awareness about symptoms and treatment options, Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month is also an opportunity to advance the health and well-being of those living with rheumatic disease by advocating for healthcare policies that help patients access safe, affordable, and effective treatments.”

Jennie Garth, actress and arthritis advocate, teamed up with the ACR to produce a national television public service announcement during RDAM. The talented actress and busy mother of three has been an advocate for rheumatic disease awareness since her daughter Lola was diagnosed with Still’s Disease, one of the hundreds of lesser-known rheumatic diseases under the general umbrella of arthritis. 

Watch the PSA >

Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month is sponsored by Simple Tasks, a national public awareness campaign from the ACR. People who are interested in learning more about rheumatic diseases and Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month activities are encouraged to visit the Simple Tasks website.

Jocelyn Givens
jgivens@rheumatology.org
404-633-3777, ext. 810

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The American College of Rheumatology is an international medical society representing more than 9,400 rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals with a mission to Advance Rheumatology! In doing so, the ACR offers education, research, advocacy, and practice management support to help its members continue their innovative work and provide quality patient care. Rheumatologists are experts in the diagnosis, management, and treatment of more than 100 different types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases.

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