Arthritis literally means joint inflammation. Although joint inflammation is a symptom or sign rather than a specific diagnosis, the term arthritis is often used to refer to any disorder that affects the joints. According to the CDC, from 2013–2015, an estimated 58.5 million US adults (22.7%) annually had ever been told by a doctor that they had some form of arthritis, and this is estimated to increase to 78 million (26%) by 2040. The risk of arthritis increases with age and arthritis is more common among women than men. There are several types, forms and causes of arthritis. However, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Gout, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis are other common joint conditions. The WHO reports that Osteoarthritis is the single most common cause of disability in older adults worldwide. An estimated 10% to 15% of all adults aged over 60 have some degree of OA, with prevalence higher among women than men. It is also projected that by 2050, 130 million people will suffer from OA worldwide, of whom 40 million will be severely disabled by the disease.
What are the Types of Arthritis?
As has been mentioned, there are several types of arthritis. These are:
Osteoarthritis. This is by far the commonest form of arthritis. It is a long-term chronic disease characterized by the deterioration of cartilage (the hard, slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones where they form a joint) in joints which results in bones rubbing together and creating stiffness, pain, and impaired movement. The disease most commonly affects the joints in the knees, hands, feet, and spine and is relatively common in shoulder and hip joints. This usually comes with age and can sometimes follow a joint injury.
Rheumatoid arthritis. This is the second commonest form of arthritis and happens when the body’s own defense system does not work properly. The immune system attacks the joints, beginning with the lining of joints. It affects joints and bones (often of the hands and feet), and may also affect internal organs and systems
Ankylosing Spondylitis. This type of arthritis affects the joints in the spine.
Gout. This is caused by crystals that build up in the joints. It usually affects the big toe, but many other joints may be affected.
Juvenile Arthritis. Is used to describe arthritis in children. Arthritis is caused by inflammation of the joints.
Psoriatic Arthritis can occur in people who have psoriasis (scaly red and white skin patches). It affects the skin, joints, and areas where tissues attach to bone.
Some disease conditions like Fibromyalgia and Lupus can cause arthritis.
What are the risk factors for arthritis?
The risk factors for arthritis mostly depend on the type of arthritis. There are however, some common risk factors which are noticed in arthritis.
- Genetic predisposition. Some types of arthritis run in families, and an individual may be more likely to develop arthritis if the parents or siblings have the disorder.
- Age. The risk of many types of arthritis — including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout — increases with age.
- Gender. Women are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, while most of the people who have gouty arthritis, are men.
- Previous joint injury. People who have injured a joint, perhaps while playing a sport, are more likely to eventually develop arthritis in that joint.
- Obesity. Carrying excess weight puts stress on joints, particularly the knees, hips and spine
- Lack of exercise. Lack of exercise or physical activity has been identified as a risk factor for arthritis, especially osteoarthritis.
- Smoking. This also increases the risk for arthritis.
- Bone density. People with higher bone density are at risk for osteoarthritis, while reduced bone density is often associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
What are the symptoms of Arthritis?
The most common signs and symptoms of arthritis involve the joints. Depending on the type of arthritis, signs and symptoms may include:
- Decreased range of motion of joint
What is the treatment for arthritis?
There are several treatment options for arthritis. Some are to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life, while some are to address the underlying cause of the arthritis.
Self-care practices. Practices like heat therapy helps to sooth the painful muscles or joints and can help drain skin infections. Use of Ice packs or cold compression therapy also helps to reduces inflammation and dulls sensation of pain. There also other practices like hydrotherapy where water in form of hot tubs and mineral water is used to relieve pain, treat diseases and maintain health.
Stretching exercises can improve flexibility and improve physical function, while a good massage can help relax tense muscles and reduce pain.
Traditional practices like Acupuncture, where needles are inserted into specific points on the body to relieve pain and treat other conditions, Tai chi, and Yoga can also be used to relieve pain and discomfort associated with arthritis. While Tai chi and Yoga are exercises that help strengthen the muscles, evidence to the effectiveness of acupuncture maybe related to the placebo effect of Complementary and alternative medicine.
Medications to relieve pain; reduce inflammation, and fever; modify or simulate hormone effects; and reduce the immune response like NSAIDS, Narcotic analgesics, steroids are also used.
Surgery to repair or replace the damaged joint is also done in severe cases.
How do you prevent arthritis?
The key to preventing arthritis lies in targeting the reduction or elimination of the risk factors
- Weight control. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important ways to prevent osteoarthritis. This is to prevent obesity which is a very modifiable risk factor for developing osteoarthritis.
- Exercise: If the muscles that run along the front of the thigh are weak, there is an increased risk of painful knee osteoarthritis. Fortunately, even relatively minor increases in the strength of these muscles, the quadriceps, can reduce the risk. The exercises to reduce this risk include the four categories of exercise which are Aerobic exercise like running; Balance exercise like walking heel-to-toe; Flexibility Exercises like Yoga; and Strength exercises like table push-ups.
- Avoid Injuries or Get Them Treated. Since a previous joint injury predisposes to osteoarthritis in the same joint in older age, it is better to avoid joint injuries as much as possible or treat them properly when they do occur.
- Protect the joints. Activities like heavy lifting, squatting, and stair-climbing could lead to joint problems down the road. Lifting can be especially hard on joints
- Diet. Although no specific diet has been shown to prevent osteoarthritis, certain nutrients have been associated with a reduced risk of the disease or its severity. They include: Omega-3 fatty acids which reduce joint inflammation. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include animal oil like fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil; certain plant/nut oils, including walnut, canola, soybean, flaxseed/linseed, and olive; fortified eggs, fortified juices, and soy beverages. They are also available as supplements in various doses.
- Stop smoking. This is a risk factor for arthritis and stopping it reduces the chances of an individual to develop arthritis.
- Blood sugar control. Even though it is generally accepted that Diabetes and Osteoarthritis are related because they share a common risk factor of poor diet and obesity, emerging evidence suggests that alterations in lipid metabolism and hyperglycemia seen in diabetes might have a direct impact on cartilage health and contributes to the development and/or progression of osteoarthritis.
- Treat infections. Some types of arthritis like septic arthritis are due to infections. It is important to treat infections promptly and properly to avoid the complication of arthritis.