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Fighting for your country has both mental and physical ramifications which includes a higher risk of chronic illnesses — specifically arthritis.

According to a new National Health Statistics Report conducted by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), veterans may have a higher rate of arthritis than the general population. The study analyzed data from the 2015-2018 National Health Interview Survey to estimate the prevalence of multiple chronic conditions (MCC) among adults ages 25 and older by veteran status and sex.

Researchers found that the two most common chronic conditions among veterans, regardless of age or sex, were hypertension (chronic high blood pressure) and arthritis. (Diabetes was the third most common chronic condition among young male veterans, while asthma was third for young women. The third most common chronic condition for both males and females over 65 was cancer.)

Arthritis was present in:

  • 24% of male veterans ages 25 to 64
  • 47% of male veterans age 65 and older
  • 29% of female veterans ages 25 to 64
  • 63% of female veterans age 65 and older

Hypertension was more common among younger male veterans (32 percent) than younger female veterans (25 percent), and slightly more common among older female veterans (69 percent) than older male veterans (64 percent).

“The elevated prevalence of arthritis among veterans was [one] key takeaway for us, as arthritis was the only chronic condition more prevalent among veterans than non-veterans across both age groups and both sexes,” lead study author Peter Boersma, MPH, told Healio Rheumatology.

The researchers did not speculate as to why rates of arthritis might be higher among veterans, but “this finding further demonstrates the high burden of arthritis in this population and may further inform ongoing efforts to improve veterans’ health and health care needs,” Boersma added.

Another takeaway for researchers was the prevalence of multiple chronic conditions (MCC) among veterans compared to non-veterans. They found that 49 percent of male veterans have MCC, compared to only 24 percent of non-veterans. The gap for women was slightly smaller, with 35 percent of veterans having MCC and 31 percent of non-veterans.

“The higher burden of these individual chronic conditions (particularly hypertension and arthritis) among veterans may explain the higher prevalence of having at least two chronic conditions among veterans,” researchers wrote, adding that they hope their research aids in the efforts to “improve both veterans’ health and better serve their health care needs, as MCC in adults is associated with increased mortality, increased health care spending, and decreased health-related quality of life.”

Here’s How You Can Be Part of Arthritis Research

If you’re diagnosed with arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition, participate in future studies like this by joining CreakyJoints’ patient research registry, ArthritisPower. ArthritisPower is a patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. Learn more and sign up here.

Boersma P, et al. Multiple Chronic Conditions Among Veterans and Nonveterans: United States, 2015–2018. National Health Statistics Report. February 23, 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.15620/cdc:101659.

Laday J. Arthritis Among Most Common Chronic Conditions for U.S. Veterans. Healio Rheumatology. March 9, 2021.

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