Select a Topic
- What is Arthritis?
- Diagnosing Arthritis
- What Causes Arthritis?
- Help for Arthritis
- More Information on Arthritis
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a group of conditions that causes pain and inflammation to joint cartilage in the body. Joints are the areas where two bones meet such as the knee, hip, shoulder or elbow. They allow our bodies to move in many different ways. Damage to the joints can result in joint weakness, instability, decreased movement and visible deformities.
Over time, as the body ages, our joints naturally degenerate. However, when someone complains of pain and stiffness in their bodies, or that their hands or hip are too sore to move, it may be as a direct result of arthritis.
If left untreated, arthritis has a debilitating effect on sufferers interfering with their quality of life and lifestyle. As arthritis becomes increasingly painful and disabling, the most basic daily tasks such as walking, brushing your teeth, driving or working at a computer can be hampered. Arthritis affects millions of people around the world. While it is most common in people over 60 years, arthritis can affect all age groups - even infants and children.
Arthritis vs. Rheumatism
People also often refer to arthritis as rheumatism. Arthritis is a very general term used to describe any aches and pains in the bones, muscles and joints. The term rheumatism is often colloquially used in the same context as Arthritis although technically it refers to a group of conditions affecting not only the joints but also muscles, ligaments, cartilage, and tendons. Rheumatic diseases also have the potential to affect internal body areas.
There are many different signs and symptoms of arthritis. People with arthritis often experience joint pain, inflammation, stiffness or swelling around a joint. Joints that are inflamed may be reddish in appearance, warm to the touch, swollen or tender. Arthritis symptoms may flare up suddenly or appear gradually over a period of time. They may also be accompanied by fatigue, insomnia, depression and muscle aches.
The diagnosis of arthritis is based on your symptoms, physical examination and medical history. Additional tests such as X-rays and blood tests may be ordered by your physician to determine the type and the severity of the arthritis. As there are various types of arthritis, you may also be referred to a rheumatologist (specialist in arthritis) for further examination.
Types of Arthritis
Arthritis is not only isolated to the joints. Many forms of arthritis can affect the whole body including eyes, skin, chest (including the heart), lungs, and kidneys. While the term arthritis is often used as if it is one particular disease, there are in fact more than 100 different medical conditions that can be classified as a type of arthritic or rheumatic disease. The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is often associated with osteoporosis, is the form that is usually brought about by age. It is a degenerative joint disease caused by the wear and tear and eventual loss of cartilage in one or more joints. Most often, it affects the fingers, hips and knees.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease (when the body's own defense system does not work properly) that causes inflammation of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms occur if the joint lining becomes inflamed when the body’s immune system attacks it and breaks it down. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms affect joints and bones (most commonly the hands and feet) as well as body organs. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can be debilitating and this disease is one of the more serious forms of arthritis and typically women are affected more than men.
Other Common Forms of Arthritis
- Gout which is a result of a defect in the body chemistry causing increased levels of uric acid in the bloodstream. It is extremely painful, often attacking small joints, the most common and well known being the base of the big toe. It mostly affects men but fortunately can often be controlled with natural treatment and changes in diet.
- Lupus is a systemic auto-immune disorder that can inflame and harm the joints, the heart, the skin, the kidneys, and other organs.
- Viral hepatitis is an infection of the liver and secondary joint involvement can occur
- Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine. It is brought about by inflammation, and causes the bones of the spine to grow together and fuse, resulting in decreased mobility and deformity.
- Juvenile arthritis is a general term for all types of arthritis that occur in children. Children may develop juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or childhood forms of lupus, ankylosing spondylitis or other types of arthritis.
- Scleroderma is a disease of the body’s connective tissue that causes a thickening and hardening of the skin and can involve the joints.
- Fibromyalgia mostly affects women and causes extensive pain that affects the muscles and attachments to the bone and joints,
What Causes Arthritis?
There are several factors that can contribute to the development of an arthritic condition, and sometimes several may come together to create an arthritic condition.
Causes of Arthritis
- Being overweight
- Metabolic disorders, immune disorders or inflammatory disorders
- Chronic stress across joints or joint trauma
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Certain occupational hazards such as working in heavy construction or on an assembly line
Help for Arthritis
Arthritis treatment is specifically aimed at providing pain relief. Treatment generally depends on the type of arthritis you have. Conventional medications include analgesics (aspirin or acetaminophen), NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids or immunosuppressive agents may be used.
It is important to discuss these medications with your physician as many of these agents have damaging side effects, especially when used long term as is the case in chronic conditions like arthritis.
Supportive treatments such as physical therapy, hydrotherapy, mobilization, tens, relaxation therapy or acupuncture can also reduce pain, inflammation and stiffness.
More Information on Arthritis
Coping with Arthritis
Learning to manage the pain associated with the various forms of arthritis can be extremely difficult. Whether your symptoms are moderate or severe, there are some helpful techniques to cope with pain and create positive results.
Gentle exercise such as swimming, biking and water aerobics can reduce joint pain. Exercise increases blood flow, builds strong muscles and minimizes the chances of injury. Stretching or range-of-motion exercises help you stay flexible while preventing stiffness and joint deformities. Applying heat and cold to painful or stiff joints also provides temporary relief.
It is very important to also listen to your body and to discontinue activities that cause pain. If you are overweight or obese, you would need to control your weight if it is placing strain on your knees or ankles. Follow a healthy eating plan or natural weight loss program under the strict supervision of a doctor or dietician.
Make your life as easy as possible – walk around periodically and avoid remaining in the same position for a long time. Take regular breaks when performing tasks, sit on high back chairs rather than chairs without support and avoid placing unnecessary pressure on the area affected by pain or inflammation. Use helpful devices such as a cane, crutches, walker or cart to pull heavy items.
Arthritis is often a chronic disease that will probably be with you for the rest of your life. The pain and discomfort of arthritis can be debilitating and often brings about feelings of depression, anger, and isolation. Deal with your emotions in a positive manner by using various techniques of relaxation.
Practice breathing techniques, positive thoughts, meditation or listen to calming music to release stress and tension. Gain the support of family and friends to help you to achieve optimal health and wellbeing.