In order to live with arthritis well, the first step is to know exactly what it is. Arthritis comes in many forms – one of the most common being osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease – which causes pain, stiffness, and swelling around an or multiple joints in the body. Osteoarthritis usually persists for more than two weeks and can affect any joint, although it usually occurs in the weight-bearing hands and joints, such as the hips, knees, feet and spine.
It can be difficult to determine the cause of osteoarthritis, as several factors can contribute to the development of this common problem in a person. Some of the possible causes include genetics, aging, being overweight, a previous injury that has damaged the joint, illness or activities associated with construction trades, factory work and high performance sport.
Another common form of this condition is rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis causes redness, pain, swelling, or a sensation of heat in the synovial membrane or joint wall. Inflammation can also affect other internal organs, such as the eyes, lungs or heart. It can strike any joint, but it is the hands, wrists and feet that are most commonly affected.
There are some key differences between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis:
In the case of osteoarthritis, the stiffness is usually brief, while in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, it intensifies after rest and often lasts 30 minutes or more.
Osteoarthritis usually affects larger joints that carry weight, such as knees and hips; Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in small joints such as hands, wrists and feet.
Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect phalanges or joints – areas generally spared by osteoarthritis.
Another disease that can cause joint pain and swelling is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) – another autoimmune disease that affects various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, heart, skin, lungs, blood, kidneys and brain – and gout, which is caused by an excessive amount of uric acid in the body, which is not adequately removed by the kidneys.
Each of these diseases affecting the joints is characterized by different symptoms. Here are some signs to watch out for if you suspect a loved one is developing arthritis:
Symptoms of osteoarthritis:
·Stiffness after prolonged rest
· Pain in a joint during or after use
· Discomfort in a joint before or during weather changes
· Swelling or loss of flexibility in a joint
· Bone masses developing on distal or middle finger joints
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
· Pain and swelling in the small joints of the hands and feet
· Generalized feeling of pain or stiffness, especially when waking up
· Joints that are swollen, painful and warm to the touch
Symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus
· Red rash on the cheeks and the bridge of the nose
· Excessive sensitivity of the skin to the sun
· Small sores in the mouth
· Inflammation of the lining of the lungs
· Persistent increase in hair loss and headaches
· Symptoms of gout
· Pain and swelling of the joint
· Acute inflammation of the joint with sensation of heat and redness
· Accumulation of uric acid or urate crystals in the joints
As soon as you notice symptoms related to arthritis, the first thing to do is to consult a doctor who can make the appropriate diagnosis.
To diagnose any form of arthritis, doctors first perform a physical exam to determine which joints are affected. In the case of osteoarthritis, the joints will be painful if they are pushed to the extreme, and they can be thicker than normal.
If joints are painful on both sides of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is more likely to be diagnosed and laboratory tests will be done to confirm the diagnosis. There are special blood tests to detect an antibody called rheumatoid factor, which can confirm the presence of rheumatoid arthritis.
Other blood tests can be used to detect the presence of other forms of arthritis, such as gout or lupus. X-rays can also show bone spurs in the joints and can be used to track the progression of arthritis over time.
It is crucial that arthritis be diagnosed early on so that it can be effectively treated before it gets worse. When a loved one is diagnosed with arthritis, their family and caregivers should be told what they can do to help them live with their illness.
Treatment and prevention of arthritis
Although there is currently no cure for arthritis, there are steps you can take to help prevent the disease.
Limiting stress on your joints by maintaining a healthy weight is a good starting point. Recent studies have shown that weight gain of only 10 to 20 excess pounds (4.5 to 9 kg) in early adulthood increases cartilage wear, which absorbs shocks in the joints and can lead to long-term serious damage to the joints.
Avoiding repetitive movements for extended periods can also help. If an elderly person suffers a joint injury, they will need medical care and rehabilitation to prevent further damage. Discuss with a doctor the proper use of cold, rest, heating pads, hot water bottles and hot tubs to treat an injury.
Composing with arthritis is not an easy task, but there are tips to help treat pain.
A regular exercise program to maintain muscle tone is helpful in managing arthritis. This program may include special exercises prescribed by your doctor or physiotherapists to strengthen muscles and improve range of motion.
Specific medications, including a wide range of painkillers and anti-inflammatories, can help relieve the pain of osteoarthritis. In severe cases, surgery, such as knee or hip replacement, may be necessary.
Another group of medications called organic products can also help alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and slow down joint degeneration. Some medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis are also used to treat Crohn’s disease because both are autoimmune diseases.
You should seek medical advice when you want to know more about medications and treatment plans for arthritis.
Whether it is to promote our well-being or to combat the disease, it is often the case that we are inclined to take “natural” supplements before even moving towards a medication approach. And that’s largely because one is concerned about the complications and side effects associated with a particular drug. Although this reaction is understandable, there are two factors to consider when considering different treatment options.
The first is the importance of early and aggressive treatment of most forms of arthritis. This way of doing things increases the chances of reducing and even preventing joint damage. In the case of inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, early treatment can prevent premature death. The benefits of pharmacotherapy have been proven and side effects monitored. The fact that natural supplements can also have side effects is the second factor. And because natural products are not regulated in the same way as pharmaceuticals, they can be more dangerous than you think.