~ by Carol Vartuli
If you’re over 40, you may be among the 54 million Americans who experience pain from arthritis. Studies indicate that this disease, with more than 100 known types, has affected humans for thousands of years, as suggested by paleopathological evidence.
May is Arthritis Awareness Month, and although you may be well acquainted with your own stiffness and joint pain, you may be unaware of the various forms it can take.
The Most Common Types of Arthritis
•Osteoarthritis, commonly referred to as degenerative arthritis, is the most common form of the disease. It breaks down joint cartilage, which cushions the ends of the bones where they meet. As cartilage is worn away, by everyday use, injury, or infection, the bones grind directly against each other. The entire joint is involved in the process, including bone changes and deterioration of the tissues that connect bones to muscles.
Osteoarthritis affects the fingers, and the weight-bearing joints in the knees, hips, feet and back. While it affects typically affects people as they grow older, about seven percent of people aged 18 – 44 have arthritis, too.
•Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) inflames the lining of the joint capsule, the synovial membrane. The body’s immune system attacks the lining, and eventually can destroy the cartilage and bone inside. This form of arthritis affects hands, wrists, feet, knees, ankles, shoulders, and elbows--often on both sides of the body.
•Gout is another form of arthritis that results from an accumulation of uric acid that forms needle-like crystals in a joint. It can occur in the big toe, knees, and wrists. It tends to occur as sudden, severe attacks of pain, redness and swelling of the joint. More men than women suffer from gout.
•Fibromyalgia is a form of arthritis that affects muscle attachments to bones, leading to widespread pain and tender points on the body. It also causes stiffness, fatigue, and disturbed sleep. Women are more prone to fibromyalgia than men.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Even if you assume your stiffness or aches are “arthritis,” getting a proper diagnosis to determine the type of arthritis is important because different types of the disease respond to different treatments. Your physician will check range of movement, swelling, skin rashes, and other possible related problems. Blood tests and X-rays or scans may be necessary to determine the type of disease. Depending on results, you may be referred to a rheumatologist or other medical specialists.
Treatments for arthritis depend on the particular type you have, and may include:
• Medications to alleviate pain and swelling (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory; aspirin; corticosteroids; disease modifiers to slow down rheumatoid progression)
• Physical Therapy to relieve pain; learn how to modify your movements and take precautions to put less stress on joints; learn exercises that keep muscles strong to support damaged joints
• Heat and/or cold use to decrease pain and inflammation
• Moving joints regularly to prevent joints from freezing or losing range of movement
• Surgery to replace badly damaged knees and hips with artificial joints; to repair a joint by removing debris and correcting bone deformity
• Self-Management to use small joints in ways to prevent excess stress; use assistive devices (canes or walkers); to maintain a healthy weight to reduce stress on weight bearing joints; to avoid foods that can trigger inflammation
If arthritis is a disease you must live with, understanding the type you have, and how to manage it, may lessen your pain and help you live your best, most active life. The Arthritis Foundation (www.arthritis.org) offers up-to-date information, a Help line, and even an online community in which you can participate.
The information in the above article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.