What is Arthritis?
Bone and joint diseases, commonly known as Arthritis, are the most widespread group of diseases in Switzerland. There are about 200 different conditions, which are known collectively as rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMD). They affect people of all ages, sexes and races and are the leading cause of physical disability in Switzerland. It is estimated that 2,2 million people in Switzerland suffer from a musculoskeletal disease, or more than ¼ of the population. Most RMD are more common among women and occur more frequently as people get older.
Musculoskeletal diseases are primarily associated with aches and pains in or around the joints. They can be caused by inflammation or damage to joints, which means that the affected joint cannot move smoothly as it should and causes pain, stiffness and swelling. Symptoms may come and go. They can be mild, moderate or severe. They may stay the same for years, or they may progress and get worse over time. Severe forms lead to chronic pain, the inability to do normal activities or work. It may even be difficult to walk or climb stairs. RMD can cause permanent joint changes. These changes may be visible, such as knobby finger joints or a bent spine, but often the damage can only be seen on X-ray. Some types also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and skin as well as the joints.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of musculoskeletal disorder. It is a degenerative joint disease leading to joint destruction and disability. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the second most common arthritis in Switzerland. It affects between 70'000-150'000 people of all ages, and usually breaks out between the ages of 30 and 50. Women are three times more likely to be affected by RA than men. Other relatively widespread forms are ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis. About 6’000 children in Switzerland before the age of 16 have a rheumatic diagnosis, such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Idiopathic comes from Greek and means that the cause is unknown and the illness has an apparently spontaneous origin.
In fact, it is not only Juvenile idiopathic arthritis that is a mystery to medicine. Arthritis is very common, and yet still not well understood. We do not know exactly what causes the disease or how to treat it. Therefore, there is no effective prevention, or a cure. There has been some noteworthy progress in research and significant therapeutic developments, but for most patients, symptomatic treatment such as pain-killers and surgical joint replacement are still the only available therapies.