Understanding Arthritis

By Lauren Wanko

“If you look at me, I don’t look sick. So when I’m tired, or when I say I can’t do that or I can’t pick that up or can you open my water, people don’t understand why,” said Danette Meyer.

Bayville resident Meyer suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.

“Rheumatoid arthritis can involve the entire body. We call that a systemic disease because it involves everything, A lot of people with rheumatoid arthritis will have a lot of fatigue, they can have other organs effected,” said Dr. Deborah Alpert, rheumatologist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

“It affects my work, it affects my home, it affects my children, it affects my everything. I can’t do the things I used to do,” Meyer said.

“Arthritis is inflammation of the joints. Your joints are what connect bones to bone. And you have your bones and they’re layered by something called cartilage and there’s fluid in between that lubricates your joint when the joint bends against itself. So arthritis is when there is inflammation in that joint,” Alpert said.

It may cause pain, swelling, redness, joint damage and some types of inflammatory. Arthritis could affect organs, says Alpert. The Arthritis Foundation, New Jersey Chapter indicates arthritis is the state’s leading cause of disability, affecting more than 1.5 million residents. Women have a higher rate of arthritis compared to men. The estimated annual cost of arthritis in New Jersey exceeds $3 billion for medical care and lost productivity.

“There are over 100 different types of arthritis,” Alpert said.

Which don’t only impact adults. Approximately 9,000 New Jersey children are living with doctor diagnosed juvenile arthritis and/or other pediatric rheumatic disease, according to the Arthritis Foundation, New Jersey Chapter. Many of Dr. Alpert’s adult patients have osteoarthritis.

“We typically think of it as a wear and tear arthritis that worsens over time, although there is a component of inflammation as well. So osteoarthritis occurs as you get older and it occurs typically in weight bearing joints — such as hips, knees and can occur in joints injured in the past,” Alpert said.

The rheumatologist says many types of arthritis can be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Meyer wasn’t surprised when she got the diagnosis three years ago.

“I was in pain every day so I knew there was something,” she said.

Meyer was diagnosed with lupus in 1997. In the early 2000s she had three surgeries on her right foot to remove damaged joints. Years later she had another surgery on her left foot. She recently moved into a ranch-style home to avoid steps.

The Ocean County resident takes half a dozen medications daily. She says before the meds, she couldn’t close her hands. Her condition continues to worsen but it hasn’t stopped her from working full-time.

“For people who have the disease the only thing I can say to them is don’t sit on the couch and let it take over your life because it can. Keep getting up. Do what you have to do,” Meyer said.

Meyer’s determined to do what she can to ensure rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t control her.