Arthritis is often viewed as a condition that afflicts older folks. In reality, people of all ages can suffer from some form of the disease.
A musculoskeletal disease that specifically affects the joints, arthritis occurs when the cartilage or connective tissues begin to break down.
There are more than 100 identified types of arthritis that can be grouped according to their causes: inflammatory arthritis occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints; infectious arthritis occurs when bacteria, viruses or fungi enter a joint and trigger inflammation; metabolic arthritis occurs when the body can’t get rid of uric acid, leading to gout. Arthritis is classified into two main types: degenerative arthritis (e.g. osteoarthritis) and inflammatory arthritis (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis) ― both impair the joints in various ways.
The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that involves wear-and-tear damage to the joint’s cartilage. As one bone grinds directly against another, pain and restricted movement occur. Although osteoarthritis can affect any joint, heavily used ones, such as the hip, knees, hands, spine, base of the thumb and big toe, are most affected by the disease.
RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS An autoimmune condition, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the synovial membrane― the lining of the joint capsule that surrounds the joint parts― and causes inflammation and swelling. Over time, RA can destroy the cartilage and the bone within the joint. RA is typically diagnosed in adults between the ages of 20 and 50, but it can develop at any age. Compared to osteoarthritis, people with RA are more severely impacted in terms of functional abilities. Early diagnosis presents better chances for successful management of the disease, which alleviates serious effects on the individual’s quality of life.
Symptoms differ, depending on the type of arthritis. Common indicators of the disease include:
- Joint pain or stiffness
- Swelling and redness of
- the joints
- Muscle aches
ARE YOU AT RISK?
These factors could increase your risk of getting arthritis:
- Family history — risk is higher if you have a family history of the disease
- Age — risk of degenerative arthritis increases as you get older, while inflammatory arthritis is more common in the young
- Gender — while women are more prone to developing RA, most who suffer from gout (another form of arthritis) are male
- Obesity — excess body weight exerts extra pressure on the joints, especially knees, hip and spine
- Previous joint injury — if you have injured a specific joint, you are more likely to develop arthritis at this location
Arthritis treatment is geared towards relieving symptoms and improving joint function. This may involve several approaches.
Medications prescribed depend on the type of arthritis. Commonly used ones include:
- Analgesics, to help reduce pain but are ineffective for inflammation
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), to lessen pain and inflammation. Some NSAIDs are also available as creams or gels for topical application on joints
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), to inhibit or prevent the immune system from attacking the joints and are often used to treat RA
Physical therapy may help improve range of motion and fortify the muscles surrounding the joints in some types of arthritis. In some cases, splints or braces may be required.
If conventional methods are ineffectual, surgery may be needed. Surgical options include:
- Joint repair — joint surfaces can be smoothed or realigned to reduce pain and improve function
- Joint replacement — the damaged joint is removed and replaced with an artificial one
- Joint fusion — more often used for smaller joints, this procedure involves removing the ends of the two bones in the joint and securing them together to let them heal into one firm unit
Sticking to a proper diet (nutrient-rich food and adhering to specific dietary limitations for patients with conditions such as gout), maintaining a healthy weight, and engaging in adequate physical activity are some of the best ways to manage arthritis pain and boost overall health.