A study has better defined how arthritis affects people of different races and ethnic groups, finding that blacks and Hispanics face significantly more pain and disability when diagnosed with rheumatic diseases than whites.

Epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in Atlanta, surveyed more than 85,000 adults across the United States, asking them whether a doctor had ever diagnosed them with some kind of arthritis – including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia, and if so, how that condition had affected their lives. The study was published in the May 2010 release of the electronic journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Among the groups surveyed, American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest prevalence of doctor-diagnosed arthritis, with 25 percent reporting the condition, while 24 percent of whites, 19 percent of blacks, and 11 percent of Hispanics reported having joint problems.

Jennifer Hootman, PhD, an epidemiologist in the arthritis program at the CDC and a co-author of the study, says another reason that blacks and Hispanics may face more pain and disability than whites is that these groups are more likely to get the most severe, systemic forms of arthritis like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

She says some ethnic groups, Native Americans, for instance, have higher rates of other health problems that are associated with the development of arthritis.

“They have more obesity and diabetes, for example, and we know these are some of the largest drivers of osteoarthritis risk, in particular,” Hootman says.

She says the CDC will use the data from the new study to try to better target ethnic groups that bear a disproportionate part of the disease burden.

Public health officials in South Carolina, for example, are offering arthritis education and exercise classes to African Americans through churches that have predominately black congregations.

“African Americans are really interested in the self-management education for arthritis,” Hootman says, “But they don’t know where to find the classes, and they aren’t really getting this information through their physicians.”