Living with Arthritis
Arthritis is a disease, causing inflammation and pain in the joints and the surrounding tissues. The word Arthritis comes from the Greek word “arthron” meaning “joint” and the Latin word “itis” refers to “inflammation.” Considered the foremost cause of physical infirmity in some countries like the United States, Arthritis can affect people of all ages, including infants and children. Roughly, about 350 million people worldwide, with over 40 million people in the United States and 10 million people in the UK suffer from this debilitating disease.
Arthritis is a term used to describe over 100 different types of diseases, which cause stiffness and swelling in and around the joints, muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments including certain internal organs. A normal joint, in normal terms, is referred to as the meeting of two or more bones, as in the case of the knee and hip joints. The bones that cover the joints are made up of smooth elastic like material called the cartilage. This cartilage enables painless movement of the joints by cushioning the bones. Lined by a thin film of tissue known as the synovial membrane, the joints release a slippery fluid that apart from nourishing the joints avoids friction in the space between the bones. Inflammation caused in and the surrounding areas of the joints lead to pain, swelling and immobility.
Types of Arthritis
Two of the most common types of Arthritis are Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis, with various other types that include Gout, Juvenile Arthritis and Fibromyalgia amongst others.
The most common type of Arthritis, referred to as the “wear and tear” Arthritis, osteoarthritis is a condition, involving the degeneration of the cartilage cushioning the bones, due to advancing age. Symptoms include morning stiffness, in the affected joint, persistent or recurrent pain, tenderness, warmth and redness with reduced mobility. The joints most commonly affected are the knees, hips, and those in the hands and spine.
A systemic inflammatory disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis is often apparent through several joints of the body. This form of Arthritis, most importantly affects the synovial membrane, including internal organs, leading to swelling, redness, pain and joint deformity. Symptoms are persistent or recurrent, which include fever, fatigue and in severe cases, may lead to anaemia, neck pain and dry eyes. In extreme cases, this condition may possibly cause inflammation of the blood vessels, the lining of the lungs or the membrane surrounding the heart.
Gout is a rheumatic disease caused by deposits of uric acid crystals in joints. Generally, the breakdown of body waste known as purine is dissolved in the blood and excreted via urine. Nevertheless, in certain cases, if they fail to flush out the excess uric acid in the blood, they get accumulated as crystals causing excruciating pain and inflammation. Beginning from the feet, they gradually spread to multiple joints affecting most women post menopause. However, fact remains that this condition is more prevalent in men than women.
Juvenile Arthritis is a form of Arthritis developing in children or teenagers below 18 years of age. The characteristic symptoms of this condition include tenderness and stiffness of joints combined with swelling and pain. In severe cases, this may lead to joint deformity in addition to short stature because of distorted growth of bone and joints.
Fibromyalgia is a condition causing muscle pain and tender points on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms or legs extremely sensitive to touch causing pain.
Symptoms of Arthritis
Symptoms of Arthritis differ among individuals, depending upon the type and condition of this disorder. However, the most common symptoms of Arthritis include warmth, stiffness- especially in the mornings on waking up – pain and stiffening of the joints on the knees, fingers, wrists, ankles, hips, and elbows combined with tenderness, swelling, redness of the skin surrounding the joints, weakened muscles and restricted mobility. There may be other symptoms which include fever, swelling of the lymph glands, fatigue or loss of weight.
Risk Factors of Arthritis
Scientists are yet to unveil the precise reasons for the cause of various types of Arthritis. However, certain factors have been identified as contributors towards risk of developing Arthritis.
The incidence of most types of Arthritis increases with age and with the usage of more joints.
Men less than 45 years of age are prone to Arthritis than women belonging to the same age group. Likewise, women above 55 have more chances of developing Arthritis than men of the same age.
Certain specific forms of Arthritis may be inherited from parents or siblings.
Obesity is another main factor for Arthritis. This is especially so in the case of osteoarthritis when the knees bear the burden of the entire body weight. According to a statement made by Arthritis foundation that for every pound weight gained there is an extra 3 pounds weight added on to the knee with about 6 times more the weight of the knees on to the hips, which proves a major risk for arthritis.
According to various studies, weakness of the knee muscles and the surrounding area may lead to osteoarthritis. However, strengthening of the thigh muscle helps decrease Arthritis symptoms and hazards.
Previous instances of injury causing undue strain on certain joints by means of sports or fitness activity may result in Arthritis pain and inflammation.
An attack of infection on one of the joints, such as Lyme disease, may cause Arthritis.
Certain occupations, which demand many repetitive movements such as bending and crouching, causes a lot of strain, especially on the muscles and joints on the knee, is another contributing factor towards arthritis.
Depending upon the severity of the condition, treatment may be customised to improve mobility and function of the damaged joint.
Generally, medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are widely used to provide relief from pain and inflammation. In certain cases, failure to provide adequate relief may require second-line drugs to be added on to the treatment plan. Since there are possibilities of many of these medicines causing some serious side effects, they must be closely monitored by a doctor to avoid such mishaps.
Another option used as treatment option is surgery, to repair or replace a joint. Surgery may help in certain cases, to assuage pain and prevent occurrence of further injury. However, this may not be suitable for treating all types of Arthritis. For instance, surgery may be worthwhile in the case of osteoarthritis, since it is a condition with already damaged bone and joint. The same cannot be said of Rheumatoid Arthritis, in which case, despite the surgery inflammation can recur any time causing similar symptoms prior to the surgery.
Although there is no permanent cure for Arthritis, there are innumerable options available to alleviate the symptoms providing relief from pain and inflammation.
Gone are the days when people suffering from Arthritis were asked to rest their joints. According to recent research, people with Arthritis found tremendous improvement in pain and joint function when involved in physical activities such as aerobics and muscle strengthening exercises. Keeping themselves active delayed the onset of disability correlated with Arthritis, managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Hot or Cold Packs
Applying a cold pack on the affected area helps constrict the blood vessel, creating numbness, thereby providing immense relief from pain. Applying a heating pad relaxes the muscles calming the aching joints.
High Body Mass Index places a lot of strain on the muscles and joints resulting in loss of knee cartilage increasing risk of hip and knee replacements. Therefore maintaining ideal body weight is extremely vital for managing Arthritis.
Research suggests that there is sufficient evidence of certain foods having the ability to trigger and aggravate symptoms of Arthritis. Therefore, including foods rich in vitamin C, Vegetables high in Beta-carotene, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Fish, unsalted nuts and seeds containing abundant amounts of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, Vitamin E, pulses, grains and anti-inflammatory foods are highly recommended in order to avoid any form of Arthritis.
Smoking is likely to increase oxidative stress leading to loss of cartilage. In addition, smoking besides aggravating the symptoms, may also interfere with certain prescription drugs recommended for treating rheumatoid Arthritis. Also read bad effects of smoking
Avoid Wearing Heels
According to researchers, wearing footwear with heels as low as one and a half inches add a lot of strain on the knees resulting in osteoarthritis. Hence, avoiding heeled footwear and opting for flat comfortable shoes prevents Arthritis risk.
Meditation and breathing exercises help alleviate symptoms of arthritic pain, improving mobility and quality of life.
Hence, it is not mandatory for people suffering from Arthritis to remain confined to their places feeling totally incapacitated. By following a few simple strategies, they have every possibility of enhancing their muscle function and strength, alleviating symptoms. These factors when combined with a positive outlook shall surely bear fruits enriching their quality of life.