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Arthritis: All About Your Joints
Arthritis is a condition that causes joint inflammation. While some suffer inflammation of only one joint, in others, the condition can cause several of the joints to get inflamed. There are over a hundred different types of arthritis – each due to various causes and managed with a myriad of treatments. Today, the two most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA).
Symptoms tend to develop gradually. However, there are also instances when they just appeared out of nowhere. Adults aged 65 years and over are more susceptible to the condition. There have also been cases of arthritis in young adults, teenagers, and even children. The condition is more prevalent in women, and being overweight can also be a risk factor.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are common symptoms of arthritis?
The condition is most associated with such symptoms as joint stiffness, swelling, and pain. As a result, the range of motion in the areas afflicted by the condition tends to become limited. In addition, people who suffer from arthritis can also see a noticeable redness of the skin surrounding the arthritic joint. People who have the condition have also reported that the symptoms tend to get worse during the mornings.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, it is common to experience tiredness. It can also bring about loss of appetite since the condition leaves the activity causes of the immune system inflamed. It is also possible to become anemic as a result. This means that there is a decrease in the red blood cell count in the body. In addition, some people may experience fever. In severe cases of the condition, joints can get deformed, especially if left untreated.
What causes arthritis?
The joints are connected to a connective tissue called the cartilage. This firm yet flexible tissue is responsible for protecting the joints by absorbing the shock and pressure caused by putting stress on and moving them. If the normal amount of cartilage decreases, the resulting condition becomes arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is generally caused by wear and tear, something that is expected as a person ages. If the joints get injured or infected, then the natural breakdown of the cartilage is exacerbated. You also run a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis if you have family members diagnosed with the disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune condition. This happens when the immune system attacks the body’s tissues. It affects the synovium, which is found in the joints. This soft tissue is responsible for producing a fluid that keeps the joints lubricated and the cartilage nourished.
In general, rheumatoid arthritis is considered a disease that mainly afflicts the synovium. It can invade a joint and destroy it in the process. Over time, this can destroy the cartilage within the joint, as well as the bone.
It’s still unknown what actually causes the immune system to attack the tissues of the body in rheumatoid arthritis. However, scientists have found certain markers in the genes that can increase a person’s risk of developing the disease by up to five times higher.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
If you suspect that you have arthritis but are not sure who to see to secure a proper diagnosis, consider seeing a primary care doctor. A physical examination will be conducted to see if there is fluid surrounding the joints. They will check too for red or warm joints. In addition, they will also check if there is a limited motion range in the joints. It will be up to the doctor to refer you to a specialist if the situation calls for it.
For severe symptoms, you can always refer to a rheumatologist. This will make it easier for you to secure a much faster diagnosis as this is their forte.
To determine the type of arthritis you are experiencing, your doctor will likely recommend the extraction and assessment of the inflammation levels in your joint fluids and blood. It is also common for doctors to ask for blood tests to check for specific antibodies when conducting diagnostic tests. This includes anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP), antinuclear antibody (ANA), as well as rheumatoid factor (RF).
Imaging scans may also be used to get a better image of the cartilage and bones of the affected area. This includes MRIs, CT scans, and X-rays. With this, it will be easier for them to rule out other potential causes of the symptoms.
How can you treat arthritis?
When treating arthritis, the goal is to minimize the amount of discomfort and pain you are experiencing while at the same time preventing any further damage to the affected joints. During the treatment, you will eventually learn which course of action works best for you, especially in terms of keeping the pain levels down. Some people find comfort in using ice packs and heating pads. Some will require mobility assistance like walkers and canes as it helps take the pressure off their problematic joints.
It is also crucial to take steps to improve your overall joint functions. Your doctor may also combine several treatment methods to give you the best possible results.
Medications for arthritis
There is a myriad of available medications for treating arthritis. They are:
- NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. This includes salicylates and ibuprofen (Advil). They are made to control both inflammation and pain. Salicylates are known to thin the blood which is why they need to be cautiously used especially when taken along with other blood-thinning medications.
- Analgesics. This includes acetaminophen (Tylenol) and hydrocodone (Vicodin). These medications are great for pain management however, they are unable to address the inflammation.
- Immunosuppressants. This includes cortisone and prednisone which are known to help address inflammation.
- Capsaicin or menthol creams. They help in blocking the pain signal transmission from the joints.
If you are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you will most likely be prescribed DMARDs or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. They are designed to suppress the immune system. For osteoarthritis, there are numerous over-the-counter or prescription medications that can help manage the condition.
Another option when it comes to treating arthritis is undergoing surgery. This is done by getting the problematic joint replaced with an artificial one. Surgeries like these are commonly performed when replacing knees and hips.
If you’re experiencing more severe arthritis along the wrists or fingers, you may be recommended by your doctor to undergo a joint fusion. This is where the ends of the bones are locked together so they can heal and fuse as one.
Addressing arthritis via physical therapy involves performing exercises that can strengthen the muscles around the afflicted joint.
What lifestyle changes help with arthritis?
Weight loss when you are overweight and maintaining an ideal weight can help reduce your developing osteoarthritis. If you are already experiencing the symptoms, it can help reduce it and minimize the discomfort.
Crafting out a good meal plan is essential in weight loss. Go for foods that are abundant in antioxidants, including vegetables, fresh fruits, and herbs. Nuts and fish are also known to help against inflammation.
You’ll want to cut down consumption of fried foods as well as processed foods too. In addition, you will want to minimize, if not totally avoid, dairy products and meat.
Studies are suggesting that people with RA may have gluten antibodies. This means that going for a gluten-free diet may help relieve the symptoms significantly. It may also help slow down the progression of the disease. According to a 2015 study, following a gluten-free diet can also benefit those who have been diagnosed with connective tissue diseases.
Keeping the joints flexible is possible through regular exercise. A good activity for arthritic people is swimming as it allows them to exercise the joints without putting pressure on them, unlike walking and running. The key is to stay active as much as possible while also making sure that you prevent overexertion.
Among the exercises you can perform at home are:
- Thumb bends and finger bends which help ease hand pain.
- Neck rotation, head tilt, and other exercises that help with neck pain relief.
- Hamstring stretches, leg raises, and other types of easy activities for the knees.
What is the long-term outlook for people diagnosed with arthritis?
Arthritis doesn’t have a cure. However, with the right treatment, the symptoms can be significantly alleviated. On top of doctor-recommended treatments, you can also introduce several changes to your lifestyle to help keep the symptoms under control.