Arthritis

Arthritis Disability

Disease Info: Stats, Causes, and Symptoms

Woman with rheumatoid arthritis viewing hand x-rayThe word arthritis originates from the Greek arthron meaning “joint” and the Latin itis meaning “inflammation.” It is a condition which mostly affects the joints and has been found to be the leading cause of disability among people over fifty-five years of age in industrialized countries. Arthritis is not one particular disease, but is instead a term that covers over 100 joint conditions; the most common of which is known as osteoarthritis (OA).

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The US National Library of Medicine says that “if you have trouble moving around or feel pain and stiffness in your body, you could have arthritis. In the majority of cases, arthritis causes pain and swelling in the joints. Eventually a swollen joint can suffer severe damage and in some cases, arthritis can cause problems in the patient’s eye, skin or other organs.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in every 5 American adults, i.e. 50 million people, have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. As the country’s population ages, it is estimated that this number will increase to at least 67% by 2030.

What Causes Arthritis?

If you have arthritis, it means that something is going wrong with one of your joints. It could be that the cartilage is wearing away, there is a lack of fluid, autoimmunity is occuring (your body attacking itself), you have an infection, or a combination of many factors. Arthritis Research UK says that most types of arthritis are caused by a combination of several factors working together.

The following factors may contribute towards a higher risk of arthritis:

  • Your genetic makeup.
  • A physically demanding job, especially one with repetitive movements.
  • A previous injury.
  • Some infections or allergic reactions may cause short-term arthritis. When it is caused by an infection it is known as “reactive arthritis”.
  • For a number of people certain foods can either bring on arthritis symptoms, or make existing ones worse.
  • Obesity, which places extra strain on joints.
  • Arthritis may also be caused by autoimmune disease.

Common Types of Arthritis

There are over 100 types of arthritis. Here is a description of some common ones, together with the causes:

  • Osteoarthritis – cartilage loses its elasticity. If the cartilage is stiff, it becomes damaged more easily. The cartilage, which acts as a shock absorber, will gradually wear away in some areas. As the cartilage becomes damaged, tendons and ligaments become stretched, causing pain. Eventually, the bones may rub against each other, causing very severe pain.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – this is an inflammatory form of arthritis. The synovial membrane (synovium) is attacked, resulting in swelling and pain. If left untreated, the arthritis can lead to deformity. Rheumatoid arthritis is significantly more common in women than men and generally strikes when the patient is between the ages of 40 and 60. During the first ten years after diagnosis, patients with rheumatoid arthritis have a higher risk of blood clots.
  • Infectious arthritis (septic arthritic) – an infection in the synovial fluid and tissues of a joint. It is usually caused by bacteria, but could also be caused by fungi or viruses. Most susceptible people are those who already have some form of arthritis and develop an infection that travels in the bloodstream.
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) – means arthritis that affects a person aged 16 or less. JRA can be various forms of arthritis; it basically means that a child has it.

What are the signs and symptoms of these common types?

  • Osteoarthritis – The symptoms develop slowly and get worse as time goes by. There is pain in a joint, either during or after use, or after a period of inactivity. There will be tenderness when pressure is applied to the joint. The joint will be stiff, especially first thing in the morning.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – The patient often finds the same joints in each side of the body are painfully swollen, inflamed, and stiff. The fingers, arms, legs and wrists are most commonly affected and many patients feel tired most of the time. Weight loss is common.
  • Infectious arthritis – The patient has a fever, joint inflammation, and swelling. He will feel tenderness and/or a sharp pain. Often, these symptoms are linked to an injury or another illness.
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis – The patient is a child. He will experience intermittent fevers which tend to peak in the evening and then suddenly disappear. His appetite will be poor and he will lose weight. The patient may find it harder to use the joint – it loses its flexibility. Some patients experience a grating sensation when they use the joint. Hard lumps, or bone spurs may appear around the joint. In some cases the joint might swell. There may be blotchy rashes on his arms and legs.Anemia is also common. The child may limp or have a sore wrist, finger, or knee. A joint may suddenly swell and stay larger than it usually is. The child may experience a stiff neck, hips or some other joint.

General Symptoms

  • The patient may find it harder to use the joint—it loses its flexibility. Some patients experience a grating sensation when they use the joint. Hard lumps, or bone spurs may appear around the joint. In some cases, the joint might swell.
  • The most commonly affected joints are in the hips, hands, knees, elbows, shoulders, and spine.
  • Symptoms are usually worse on waking up in the morning and the stiffness can last for 30 minutes at this time. The joint is tender when touched. Hands may be red and puffy.
  • As the arthritis progresses, it spreads from the smaller joints in your hands, wrists, ankles, and feet to your elbows, knees, hips, neck, shoulders, and jaw.

Can I Get SSDI if I Have Arthritis?

  • SSDI information for arthritis can be found under the “Musculoskeletal Body System” and has several listings and categories. The following is the definition of what is considered to be a major dysfunction of a joint as well as several categories that your arthritis may fall under as listed by the SSA.

    1.02 Major dysfunction of a joint(s) (due to any cause): Characterized by gross anatomical deformity (e.g., subluxation, contracture, bony or fibrous ankylosis, instability) and chronic joint pain and stiffness with signs of limitation of motion or other abnormal motion of the affected joint(s), and findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging of joint space narrowing, bony destruction, or ankylosis of the affected joint(s). With: A. Involvement of one major peripheral weight-bearing joint (i.e., hip, knee, or ankle), resulting in inability to ambulate effectively, as defined in 1.00B2b; OR B. Involvement of one major peripheral joint in each upper extremity (i.e., shoulder, elbow, or wrist-hand), resulting in inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively, as defined in 1.00B2c.

Inflammatory Arthritis

  • To satisfy the listing criteria, a person with inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) must have persistent swelling, pain, and limitation of joints such as the:
    • Hips
    • Knees
    • Ankles
    • Shoulders
    • Elbows
    • Wrists and hands

Degenerative Arthritis

People who have degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) satisfy the requirements if they have significant limitations using their arms/hands or have a significant problem standing and walking. Those who have significant back or neck problems due to degenerative processes must have persistent sensory, reflex, and motor loss to satisfy the listed criteria.

Conditions Not Listed

If a person’s arthritis does not satisfy a medical listing at step 3, the Social Security Administration continues to the next two steps of the 5 Step Sequential Evaluation to see whether the person might still qualify for disability benefits. At the next two steps:

  • Can you do the work you did previously?
  • Can you do any other type of work?

We understand that arthritis can be very serious and that it can keep you from enjoying everyday life and from working. If you are currently disabled because of arthritis and cannot work, please contact our Utah Social Security Disability Lawyers and let us help you start finding solutions in these tough times.

References and Sources