If you ask most folks what arthritis is, a good number will tell you that it’s a condition associated with older people. Well, this statement is not further from the truth, but there’s more to the condition than you might think of! There are many types of arthritis and anyone can get affected, from the young kids to the seniors.
In order to help you understand arthritis, we are going to get into details of this condition, looking at some crucial facts about it, some of the most common types, symptoms and diagnosis, treatment, and, of course, the care that you should observe.
Overview: What is Arthritis?
So, what is arthritis? Well, simply put, arthritis is basically a joint disorder characterized by pain, swelling, and stiffness and aching. Even though its symptoms can come and go, they may progress over time and get worse, causing inability to conduct activities, chronic pain, and in worst case scenario, permanent joint changes.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, this condition affects over 50 million adults and a staggering 300,000 children. It doesn’t discriminate; people of all sexes, races and ages can suffer from the condition.
There are some indispensable facts about arthritis that we cannot ignore. Here’s a quick brief:
Arthritis is not a single condition by itself; it defines about 200 rheumatic conditions and disease that affect the joints.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention puts the number of people who have been diagnosed with diabetes at more than 50 million.
Arthritis can affect children and adults, and both women and men.
Arthritis cannot be treated by medications alone. Patient support and education, as well as physical therapies also play a crucial role.
Arthritis treatment aims to minimize any joint damage, control pain and ultimately maintain or improve quality of life.
Types of Arthritis
Just as mentioned above, arthritis is a term used to refer to various joint conditions. Although they are generally characterized by swelling, stiffness and pain, each of these types appear in different forms.
There are three major arthritis categories that are used to determine the actual type of the condition. These are:
Osteoarthritis – Also known as degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis happens to be the most frequently diagnosed. It occurs as a result of the cartilage inside your joints disintegrating, and mostly affects the hands, neck, lower back, hips and knees.
Rheumatoid Arthritis – Mostly affecting small joints in the hands, fingers and wrists, this type is associated with the inflammation of the lining found inside joints. It’s considered an autoimmune condition, and usually strikes people between 30 and 50 years, though there have been cases of children developing the condition.
Juvenile Arthritis – yes, just as the name suggests, this type strikes the young, often children aged 18 years and below. Why such an early age? Well, the cause for this kind of arthritis is still unknown and research is still underway. However, what is already confirmed is that it affects girls more than boys. It affects the wrists, knees and ankles, and in some cases the shoulders, jaw, neck and hips.
There’s no single root cause for all arthritis types; however, there are a number of potential causes for specific types, including injury (leads to degenerative arthritis), inheritance (osteoarthritis), abnormal metabolism (pseudogout and gout), infections, and immune system dysfunction (rheumatoid arthritis). If you look closely at the causes of a number of arthritis types, you will realize that each one of them could be cause by several factors working together.
That said, there are risk factors (modifiable and non-modifiable) that have been proven to be associated with arthritis. These include age (risk tends to increase with age), sex (most types are common in women, with gout being associated more in men), genetics, overweight and obesity (onset of knee osteoarthritis), joint injuries, and occupation (those largely involved in squatting and knee bending).
Arthritis Symptoms and Diagnosis
Just as we have seen that the causes can differ from one type of arthritis to another, the location and pattern of arthritis symptoms can also vary significantly depending on type. However, there are four main warning signs and symptoms that you should look out for. Remember that rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, as well as those for other types, they can occur gradually or develop suddenly, and sometimes come and go.
Swelling – A good number of arthritis types can cause the affected joint to swell and become red.
Pain – In most cases Arthritis pain can be constant, either felt in the entire affected joint or in many other body parts. During onset, the pain may come and go occasionally.
Stiffness – This is a typical symptom, and you might experience it in the morning, after sitting in your car for long hours, or after sitting at your desk.
Inability to move joint – Getting up from your chair shouldn’t be painful or hard, but when it starts to be, you could be suffering from arthritis.
Diagnosis of arthritis starts with a physical examination and may include imaging scans and blood tests in order to determine the exact type of arthritis. It is conducted by a qualified physician or an arthritis specialist called a rheumatologist.
Arthritis Treatment and Care
The idea of treating arthritis is to manage pain and swelling (for inflammatory types) in order to try and restore normal joint function. This, according to the American College of Rheumatology, is done through a number of strategies, including: medications, occupational and physical therapies (especially for arthritis in fingers and hands), joint and splints assistive aids, patient support and education, weight loss, and surgery where joint correction and replacement is needed.
When it comes to arthritis medication, inflammatory drugs are prescribed such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and corticosteroids, biologics, DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs), and analgesics to reduce pain.
Arthritis diet is also a crucial aspect of treatment as some foods help reduce inflammation in the joints, allowing more motion and improved quality of life. These kinds of foods are found in what is called a Mediterranean diet. They include fish, fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, beans, whole grains, and olive oil.