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What is Arthritis and How is it Managed?

More than 54 million adults have been diagnosed with arthritis in the U.S. Most of those cases (60 percent) include working-age individuals between 18 and 64 years old. In fact, arthritis is the leading cause of work disability nationwide.

So, what is exactly is it? Arthritis is an inflammation or chronic pain in the joints. Notable symptoms include visible swelling, stiffness and a decreased range of motion. Pain can be mild, moderate or severe, and may become debilitating over time. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, but here are the most prevalent:

Osteoarthritis: The most common form of arthritis characterized by the wear and tear of protective cartilage inside the joint. Over time, a person may experience increased pain due to bones rubbing against one another. Osteoarthritis can be a byproduct of an injury, age or obesity, which puts excessive pressure on the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): An inflammatory and autoimmune disease that attacks healthy tissue in the body, typically the lining of the joints. The hands, wrists, knees, and feet are often affected leading to chronic pain and some deformity. RA can also impact vital organs such as the heart, lungs and eyes. The exact cause of the condition is still unknown.

Lupus: Like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus is an autoimmune disease, but it attacks more than the joints. It’s characterized by an inflammation of the kidneys, skin, lungs and other vital organs. It disproportionately affects African American women as they are three times more likely than white women to develop the disease. Common symptoms include rash, hair loss, mouth sores, joint pain, dry eyes and mouth.

Fibromyalgia: A widespread pain and stiffness that often affects soft tissue instead of joints. Individuals are more sensitive to physical discomfort due to a heightened perception of pain. They may also experience anxiety and depression, as well as tiredness or fatigue due to sleep problems. People who already have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have a greater risk of developing fibromyalgia.

Gout: An inflammatory disease caused by excessive uric acid in the body. The acid builds up in the blood stream and forms crystals in your joints causing intense pain. Individuals may experience severe swelling and redness, particularly around the big toe. Flareups occur suddenly and often during the night.

Treatment:

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. But you can manage the pain and prevent further damage to the joints and tissue. Depending on the type, a doctor may prescribe medication to treat the disease. This can include analgesics (a pain reliever), biologics (to reduce inflammation), or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which relieve both pain and inflammation.

Other viable options include physical rehabilitation such as occupational and warm water therapy. With regular sessions, one can improve movement and overall joint condition. In extreme cases, surgery may be required to repair or replace damaged cartilage. For more information, contact a primary care physician to discuss all available treatment options.

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