ATLANTA - More than half the state's arthritis sufferers are younger than 55 and most lack a formal diagnosis, according to a groundbreaking report on the disease released Thursday.
The Georgia Arthritis Report, conducted by the Arthritis Foundation, Georgia Department of Human Resources, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dispels common misconceptions about arthritis. No other state has ever conducted its own comprehensive report on the disease, but officials said the work will serve as a model for other states.
"Arthritis is a problem we have to deal with in the workplace, not just at home," said Dr. Chad Helmick, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC. "It is important to understand all we can about who has this disease and how they are managing it."
Vicky Pope knows firsthand what happens when arthritis affects job performance.
"The hardest choice I made was deciding to retire from my job," said the 50-year-old Columbus resident. "In my mind, I knew I could do it. I was just experiencing so much pain that it was hard on me mentally and on my family."
Ms. Pope was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as a teen and underwent more than a dozen surgeries on her hands and feet during the years. She said studies such as the Georgia Arthritis Report will help people understand the importance of early diagnosis.
"If I had had the information that is available to people now back then, it would have been a lot easier to manage the disease at 17 than it was," Ms. Pope said. "Nobody really knew what to tell me about what to expect. But they do know more now, but you have to get in to a doctor early."
Through a 1998 telephone survey, researchers asked 2,375 adult Georgians generic questions about joint pain. The survey found 34 percent of those polled have arthritis and often can't work because of pain.
"We have a serious problem here," said Dr. W. Hayes Wilson, chairman of Georgia's Arthritis Foundation and an Atlanta rheumatologist. "We also found that 68 percent of Georgians don't even know what type of arthritis they have."
Arthritis experts haven't yet compared the number of Georgia's sufferers with other states but said the report will serve as a springboard for further research.
The effects of arthritis drugs such as Celebrex, made in Augusta, weren't included in the study. Officials said more work will have to be done to determine particular treatments, their popularity and effectiveness.
The report will be used to create an action plan that will outline goals for arthritis education and treatment awareness. The plan is expected to be completed next spring.
Reach Shannon Womble at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copies of the Georgia Arthritis Report are available through the Georgia chapter of the Arthritis Foundation at (800) 933-7023.
Information on treatment and prevention is available at www.arthritis.org on the Internet.