Study's surprising finding: It's lost sleep
By Adam Marcus
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthScout) -- When most people think about the woes of arthritis, pain is the first symptom that comes to mind. But that isn't so for those who have the ailment.
Lost sleep is among the biggest complaints of arthritis sufferers and the leading reason they seek medical care, according to a new study.
"Not only can arthritis disrupt your sleep, but your sleep disruption makes your pain worse," says Dr. Joanne Jordan, a joint specialist at the University of North Carolina's Thurston Arthritis Research Center and lead author of the study, which appears in the Archives of Family Medicine.
The finding is based on a survey of nearly 1,000 arthritis patients over age 65, which asked them about the ways they dealt with their condition and how it affected their lives.
One in three patients said discomfort from their arthritis kept them awake at night and prevented them from pursuing leisure activities, the researchers found.
To the scientists' surprise, it was the lost sleep, not other symptoms, that spurred most to seek medical care.
Two in three seek help to sleep
In pursuit of peaceful shut-eye 66 percent of the sleepless bought over-the-counter arthritis remedies and 63 percent went to a physician. Nearly 50 percent took prescription drugs and one in two turned to prayer for help.
A small but substantial percentage also looked to alternative care, copper bracelets, biofeedback and other nostrums. Going without sleep "drove them to desperate means," Jordan says.
Dr. John Klippel, medical director of the Arthritis Foundation, says sleep loss is a "very common" problem among arthritis patients, and one with serious consequences. It contributes to fatigue, poor functioning and fibromyalgia, a painful condition that often accompanies various forms of arthritis.
The difficulty for doctors, however, is knowing which patients are most at risk for sleep deprivation. Although Klippel's group estimates that at least 43 million American suffer from arthritis, good figures don't exist on how many of these need regular treatment for their condition. It's these patients, he says, who are likely to have the worst trouble.
What To Do
Fortunately, says Jordan, sleep problems are readily treatable. Many factors can cause insomnia, from conflicts with medication to too much caffeine. These are particularly nettlesome for the elderly, who, because of age-related changes, already have difficulty sleeping.
The bottom line, says Jordan, is that if you suffer from arthritis and are having trouble sleeping, tell your doctor right away.
To learn more about arthritis and how to manage it, visit the Arthritis Foundation. For more on good sleeping habits and how to develop them, try the Providence Sleep Disorders Center.
SOURCES: Interviews with Joanne Jordan, M.D., M.P.H., research associate professor, Thurston Arthritis Research Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and John Klippel, M.D., medical director, Arthritis Foundation, Washington, D.C.; February 2000 Archives of Family Medicine
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