May is National Arthritis Month. Millons of Americans suffer from arthritis. More than 686,000 Kansans currently suffer from chronic joint symptoms or arthritis diagnosed by a physician.

The chronic disease often is associated with aging it affects 50 percent of those older than age 65. It also affects three out of five adults younger than 65, and 285,000 children. Because the disease affects the joints and surrounding tissues, including the ligaments and tendons around the joints, everyday activities, like combing your hair, brushing your teeth or opening a jar can be difficult.

The disease can be painful, debilitating and costly. It’s the leading cause of disability in the United States, and the leading chronic condition for women. Medical care and time off from work add up to about $85 billion a year.

While there are more than 100 different kinds of arthritis, three are most common:

— Osteoarthritis, which affects 21 million people, is a degenerative joint disease. It affects the cartilage around the joint, and usually affects the hip, knee, feet, or hands. Its symptoms include stiffness in the joints and reduced mobility.

— Fibromyalgia affects 3.7 million Americans. This form of arthritis affects muscles and the areas where they attach. Its symptoms include muscle pain throughout the body, fatigue, headaches, and sleep disorders.

— Rheumatoid arthritis, which affects 2.1 million people, involves a chronic inflammation of the joint lining. Joint pain, stiffness and swelling of multiple joints are common symptoms.

— Rheumatoid arthritis also can cause the heart and lungs to swell, making people who have the disease more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses and other infectious diseases.

Here are some tips:

— Start the day with a warm shower or bath to warm-up and soothe joints.

— Exercise regularly. Moderate physical activity such as bending and stretching, walking, or gardening, for example usually eases arthritic pain, and promotes flexibility and mobility. It is important, however, to not stress joints.

That’s one reason why aquatic exercises often are recommended for arthritis sufferers. The water cushions the joints.

— If you are overweight, lose weight extra pounds stress joints.

— Eat a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, and drink eight to 10 glasses of water each day. Staying well hydrated is important fluids cushion the body.

Consulting a health care professional is recommended. Information on arthritis and how exercise and weight management can help in managing the disease is through the Kansas Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation at 316-263-0116, or outside Wichita 800-362-1108.