Dominick KL (Durham VA Medical Center)
Golightly YM (Durham VA Medical Center)
Arthritis is one of the most common chronic illnesses and a leading cause of disability. However, little is known about the specific impact of arthritis among the veteran population. This study compared arthritis prevalence and symptoms between veterans and non-veterans and between Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care users and veteran non-users.
Study participants were 123,395 respondents from 36 states that completed the Centers for Disease Control’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System arthritis module in 2000. Participants reported whether they had ever been told by a doctor that they have arthritis. Those with doctor-diagnosed arthritis also reported whether they had chronic symptoms (pain, aching, stiffness, or swelling present on most days of at least one month during the past12 months) and arthritis-related activity limitation. Chi-square tests were used to compare frequencies of these variables according to veteran status and health care status, then multiple logistic regression models were used to examine these relationships when controlling demographic characteristics (age, race, gender, marital status, education, and body mass index).
Veterans were more likely to report doctor-diagnosed arthritis than non-veterans (32% vs. 22%, p<0.001), and VA health care users were more likely to report doctor-diagnosed arthritis than veteran non-users (46% vs. 29%, p<0.001). These differences remained in analyses controlling for demographic characteristics. Among respondents with doctor-diagnosed arthritis, veterans and non-veterans were similar in their reports of chronic joint symptoms (73% vs. 72%, p=0.171) and activity limitation (both 40%). However, VA health care users were more likely than veteran non-users to report chronic symptoms (82% vs. 71%, p<0.001) and activity limitation (56% vs. 37%, p<0.001). These differences remained in models adjusting for demographic characteristics.
Results show a significant burden of arthritis among veterans, particularly VA health care users. The prevalence and impact of arthritis among veterans is likely to increase substantially over the next several decades because of the aging of the population
Efforts are needed to develop and disseminate arthritis self-management programs within the VA health care system, as these programs can improve patient outcomes and reduce health care costs.