General Information on Arthritis

Arthritis is a very common condition but it can easily be misunderstood. Arthritis symptoms can include joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and currently affects people of all ages, sexes, and races, but it is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older. It is the leading cause of disability in America. Nearly half of people with arthritis are limited in everyday activities such as walking, bending, or lifting a grocery bag, but it does not have to be the case as there are many ways to preserve joint function, mobility and quality of life. Learning about the disease and treatment options, making time for physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight are essential to controlling the symptoms and preventing the condition from becoming too debilitating to live with.

While arthritis encompasses many conditions, the two most common forms are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

  1. Osteoarthritis -The most common type, involves wear-and-tear damage to joint cartilage, the coating on the ends of bones. With enough damage done to the joints, or from a past injury can result in bone grinding directly on bone, which causes pain and restricted movement.
  2. Rheumatoid arthritis - The body's immune system attacks the lining of the joint and this lining becomes inflamed and swollen. The disease progression can eventually destroy cartilage and bone within the joint.

Risk factors for arthritis include:

  • Family history: Some types of arthritis run in families, so you may be more likely to develop arthritis if your parents or siblings have the condition.
  • Your age: The risk of many types of arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout increases with age.
  • Specific sex: Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis, while most of the people who have gout, another type of arthritis, are men.
  • Previous joint injury: People who have injured a joint in the past, are more likely to eventually develop arthritis in that joint.
  • Obesity: Carrying excess pounds puts stress on joints, particularly the knees, hips and spine. Overweight people have a higher risk of developing arthritis.

Treatment Options:
Arthritis treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and improving joint function. Trying several different treatments, or combinations of treatments, before determining what works best, may be the route to take.

  • Medications - The medications used to treat arthritis vary depending on the type of arthritis.
  • Therapy - Physical therapy can be helpful for some types of arthritis. Exercises can improve range of motion and strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints.
  • Surgery - If conservative measures do not help, a doctor may suggest surgery, such as joint repair, joint replacement, or joint fusion.
  • Lifestyle and home remedies:
    • Weight loss: If you are overweight, losing weight will reduce the stress on your weight-bearing joints.
    • Exercise: Regular exercise can help keep your joints flexible. Swimming and water aerobics may be good choices because the buoyancy of the water reduces stress on weight-bearing joints.
    • Heat and cold: Heating pads or ice packs may help relieve arthritis pain.
    • Assistive devices: Using canes, walkers, raised toilet seats and other assistive devices can help protect your joints and improve your ability to perform daily tasks.
  • Alternative medicine - Many people use alternative remedies for arthritis, but there is little reliable evidence to support these. The most promising alternative remedies for arthritis include:
    • Acupuncture: Fine needles are inserted at specific points on the skin to reduce many types of pain, including that caused by some types of arthritis.
    • Glucosamine: Some studies results have been mixed on this, and it now appears that glucosamine works no better than placebo. Doctors may recommend trying it to see if it does relieve symptoms for a period.
    • Yoga or tai chi: The slow, stretching movements associated with yoga and tai chi may help improve joint flexibility and range of motion in people with some types of arthritis.
    • Massage: Light stroking and kneading of muscles may increase blood flow and warm affected joints, temporarily relieving pain.

SOURCES: WebMD; Arthritis Foundation

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