Arthritis: Signs, Symptoms and Prevention

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a very common condition but as prevalent as it is, it’s still widely misunderstood. Arthritis isn’t a single disease, it’s a non-formal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. Currently, there are over 100 types of arthritis related conditions. While most of us think that Arthritis affects only the older population, this another misconception. Different types of Arthritis affect all people regardless of age, sex, race and yes, this means children too. Additionally, it is more commonly seen in women than men and in people who are overweight. The symptoms of this condition will develop gradually over time or appear suddenly with any form of warning.

 

Image Source: White Cross Health

 

The three types of arthritis that are more seen in the population are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and juvenile arthritis (JA) according to Everyday Health:

· Osteoarthritis (OA). Referred to as degenerative joint disease, it’s the most diagnosed from arthritis. Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage within a joint begins to disintegrates. Parts of the body which are affected by this form of arthritis is knees, hips, low back, neck, and hands, and most often occurs after the age of 40.

· Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This type of arthritis occurs when the lining inside joints becomes inflamed and irritated, causing joint damage and pain. It most often occurs in small joints in the wrists, fingers, and hands. RA is an autoimmune disease that usually strikes between the ages of 30 and 50. Women are most often affected, though children may also develop RA.

· Juvenile arthritis (JA). This includes any type of arthritis that strikes children younger than age 18. What causes arthritis to develop at such an early age is unknown, but it occurs more often in girls than boys. JA typically strikes the ankles, knees, and wrists, and may also affect the hips, neck, jaw, and shoulders. There are many types of juvenile arthritis, the most common being juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, or JRA. There are three specific forms or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis: polyarticular (many joints) JRA, pauciarticular (four or fewer joints), and systemic onset (affecting the whole body).

Image Source: creakyjoints.org

Symptoms of Arthritis

Common arthritis joint symptoms include:

· Swelling

· Pain

· Stiffness

· Decreased range of motion

Symptoms vary according to the type arthritis. They can be mild, moderate or severe. The symptoms can stay consistent over the years, but may progressively get worse over time. At their most severe, arthritis can result in chronic pain and the inability to perform simple day activities such as make it difficult to walk or climb the stairs. Arthritis can also cause permanent joint changes. Some changes may be physically evident such as knobby finger joints, but the internal implication of the damages done can be often seen on X-rays.

 

Risk factors

The risk factors of arthritis are influenced by our behaviors and characteristics which adds to the likelihood of getting arthritis or worsening it. Understanding the risk factors can help you recognize modifiable risk factors and non-modifiable risk factors:

Non-modifiable arthritis risk factors:

#1 Genetics: Certain arthritis run in families. If you have a close relative who’s developed arthritis, it’s likely to increase a person’s chance in developing it.

#2 Age: The risk of procuring arthritis increases with age. The older you get, the more susceptible you are to having osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout.

#3 Your sex: Women stand the chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis more than men. They also have a tendency to developing arthritis that affects hands, knees and thumbs while men experience arthritis more on their hips.

 

Modifiable arthritis factors:

#1 Previous joint injury: For people who may have injured a joint while engaging in a sports activity, developing arthritis at that joint is very likely.

#2 Obesity: Those living with obesity will mostly experience arthritis specifically on their knees, hips and spine as the excess weight they’re carrying will put extra stress and pressure on their joints.

#3 Occupation: Some occupations may require constant knee bending and squatting. This will later cause osteoarthritis of the knee.


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Causes

The cause of arthritis is the disintegration of the cartilage. A cartilage is a connective tissue found in joints, and its primary function is to protect joints by absorbing the pressure and shock during activities such as walking and so on. With a reduced amount of cartilage, the bones beneath the cartilage will become damaged and rubbed together. This will end up causing inflammations and stiffness.

However, how arthritis develops in a person is yet to be determined. Most types of arthritis are connected to a mixture of risk factors as mentioned above. There are no obvious links to it’s development and are unpredictable in nature.

 

Treatment

Arthritis treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and improving joint function. The method of treatment varies from medication, therapy to surgery. It’s recommended to try several different treatments and combinations before deciding what works best with a health care professional.

 

#1 Medications
The medications used to treat arthritis vary depending on the type of arthritis. Commonly used arthritis medications include:

· Analgesics. These medications help reduce pain, but have no effect on inflammation. Examples include acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), tramadol (Ultram, Ultracet, others) and narcotics containing oxycodone (Percocet, Oxycontin, others) or hydrocodone (Norco, Vicoprofen, others).

· Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs reduce both pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). Some types of NSAIDs are available only by prescription. Oral NSAIDs can cause stomach irritation, and some may increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. Some NSAIDs are also available as creams or gels, which can be rubbed on joints.

· Counterirritants. Some varieties of creams and ointments contain menthol or capsaicin, the ingredient that makes hot peppers spicy. Rubbing these preparations on the skin over your aching joint may interfere with the transmission of pain signals from the joint itself.

· Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, DMARDs slow or stop your immune system from attacking your joints. Examples include methotrexate (Trexall) and hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil).

· Biologic response modifiers. Typically used in conjunction with DMARDs, biologic response modifiers are genetically engineered drugs that target various protein molecules that are involved in the immune response. Examples include etanercept (Enbrel) and infliximab (Remicade)

Image Source: iStock

#2 Therapy
For those living with certain types of arthritis, physical therapy might be relieving for them. Through regular exercises, range of motions can be improved including the strengthening of muscles surrounding the joints.

#3  Surgery
If conservative measures don’t help, your doctor may suggest surgery, such as:

· Joint repair. In some instances, joint surfaces can be smoothed or realigned to reduce pain and improve function. These types of procedures can often be performed arthroscopically — through small incisions over the joint.

· Joint replacement. This procedure removes your damaged joint and replaces it with an artificial one. Joints most commonly replaced are hips and knees.

· Joint fusion. This procedure is more often used for smaller joints, such as those in the wrist, ankle and fingers. It removes the ends of the two bones in the joint and then locks those ends together until they heal into one rigid unit.

Image Source: BigStock

Prevention

The truth is, you can’t always prevent arthritis from taking place. There are factors such as older age, family history and gender that are out of our locus of control.

However, there some healthy habits that we can cultivate and practice to lessen the risks associate with arthritis. But not only do they cover arthritis, they also prevent other disease from developing.

#1 Get some regular exercise

Exercise is a great way to lessen the stress of excess weight of our joints, but it has the extra benefit of strengthening the muscles around our joints too. This maintains them keeps the wear and tears at bay.

To get the best out of our working out programs, try implementing alternate activities such as walking or swimming with strengthening exercises. If possible, add some much needed stretching to keep your flexibility and range of motion.

#2 Include more fish rich in Omega-3s in your diet.

Some fish are rich in a particular fatty acid, which is known as the omega 3 acid. These Omeg-3s reap certain health advantages, such as reducing inflammation in the body.

A study showed in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases that women who regularly ate fish could be at lower risk for this particular disease. It’s been recommended to eat fish high is Omega-3s such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines at least twice a week.

#3 Keep an eye on your weight

Your knees have to support your body weight. Being overweight or obese can take a real toll on them. If you’re just 10 pounds overweight, the force on your knee as you take each step increases by 30 to 60 pounds.

Overweight women are almost four times more likely to get knee osteoarthritis than women of a healthy weight. Diet and exercise can help bring your weight into a healthier range.

#4 Take preventive measure against injuries

It’s an inevitability that our joints will begin to wear out. But when it comes to injuring our joints, due to sports activities or being involved in an accident, there’s a potential in damaging the cartilage and cause it to get worn out quicker.

Better to be safe than sorry! Always use the appropriate gear while playing sports and learn proper exercising techniques.

#5 Protect your joints

Employing the right technique when sitting, working, and lifting are great for protecting your joints from everyday strains. For example, lift with your knees and hips — not your back — when picking up objects.

For other practices, carry items closer to your body so there’s not too much strain placed on the wrists. At work, if you’re sitting for long hours, ensure that your back, legs and arms are well supported.

For more resources and support, you may visit Arthritis Foundation Malaysia at http://afm.org.my or visit them at Facebook at Arthritis Foundation Malaysia and call them at 03-7960-6117.

 

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases. At Parents Avenue, we strongly recommend all our readers to seek medical advise from your local hospital or clinic. Thank you.

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