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Health // Doctor in the House
Rasa Fournier

Managing Joint Inflammation

Jennifer Hee
Executive director at the Arthritis Foundation

What brought you to the Arthritis Foundation?

My mom and other people really close to me have arthritis, so I felt passionate about raising awareness so that we can one day find a cure.

How long have you been involved with the foundation?

I started in September of 2010.

What causes arthritis?

Arthritis literally means joint inflammation. There are more than 120 different forms of arthritis. With many of them, we don’t really know the cause, but basically arthritis usually affects the joints and the tissue around the joints, such as muscles and ten-dons. There are three main forms: osteoarthritis (which is the most common form and can affect any joint, especially in the knees, hips, neck and small joints of the fingers), rheumatoid arthritis (which involves inflammation in the lining of the joints) and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Heredity, weight gain, muscle weakness, injury or overuse, and aging are all factors that may increase the risk of developing arthritis. There is no cure for arthritis, but there are many ways to treat, control and manage one’s arthritis.

What are the symptoms?

Each type of arthritis has different symptoms and treatments, and it’s definitely important to see a rheumatologist, a specialist in arthritis and related conditions. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, stiffness, limited mobility and warm, inflamed joints. As it progresses and inflammation continues, damage to nearby bones and cartilage and ligaments can follow, which can lead to joint deformity and disability.

What demographic is most prone to arthritis?

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States and affects one in five people here in Hawaii. In Hawaii, there are 236,000 people with arthritis. Forty-four percent of the adults are between the ages of 65 and 74, and 28 percent are between 45 and 64, with 7 percent or 33,000 people between 18 and 44. What people don’t realize is that kids can have arthritis, too. There are approximately 1,200 kids in Hawaii who have arthritis. More children have arthritis than juvenile diabetes, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy combined. One of the things we want to do this year is raise more awareness about childhood arthritis.

What parts of the body does arthritis affect?

It affects all parts of the body including the skin and internal organs. Gout, which is huge in Hawaii, commonly affects the large joint of the big toe, as well as the ankles and knees. Lupus can affect joints, skin, kidneys and blood. Carpal tunnel syndrome, which is becoming more common among young adults because of smart-phone use, is a condition involving the wrists that can cause pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in fingers and thumb.

What are some ways to alleviate arthritis?

The Arthritis Foundation is all about educating people on how to take control of their lives with arthritis. There are so many ways to manage and control arthritis. Moving is the best form of medicine. Exercise such as walking, water exercise and tai chi increases movement, reduces fatigue and helps you feel better. Diet is also important. Evidence shows that excessive weight and the type of diet you follow may influence the development, symptoms and progression of certain types of arthritis. Medicines also can help reduce the pain. It’s important to work with your doctor to find the best treatment for you. It may take time, but with the right treatment program, people with arthritis can lead active lives. We have hundreds of different brochures that we provide free to the public and doctors’ offices that the doctors can give to patients. The brochures explain, in simple terms, this is what you have, this is what you’re dealing with, and this is how we can help you.

What other outreach or resources do you offer?

The Arthritis Foundation is here to help you take control of your arthritis. We offer self-help courses where one can learn to take control and care for their arthritis in a six-week class. We do outreach and hold educational forums across the island. Arthritis is the leading cause of work disability and the largest category of disability claims filed. Arthritis is costing this country $350 million a day or an annual $128 billion! We can work with local businesses and organizations to develop health and wellness programs, which can help in lower claims, better productivity and a healthier work environment.

The Arthritis Foundation also offers exercise classes like tai chi for arthritis, aquatics and land exercise at a number of our program partner sites. Our website is full of resources that can help you figure out the next step once you are diagnosed with arthritis and where to find help. You can contact us directly at 596-2900 or email jhee@arthritis.org.

For families that have children with arthritis, we provide scholarships to attend our national Juvenile Arthritis (JA) Conference for education and support, and we hold an annual JA Conference in the fall. We also have an annual camp for children with arthritis, Camp Mana’olana, where kids with JA not only can learn about how to live a better life with arthritis, but also relax and have fun with other kids who are in the same physical situation. At Camp Mana’olana, they know that for the time they are there, they won’t be teased for their physical deformities or for having to use a cane or wheelchair.

I’d also like to mention that funding for the Arthritis Foundation comes from private donations and grants. We continue to be so grateful for our local support. We have one fundraiser a year that supports our programs year-round. It’s the 2012 Hawaii Arthritis Walk happening May 20 at Kaka’ako Waterfront Park. Learn more at hiarthritiswalk.org.

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