Renea Dennison, Contributor
Arthritis is a big subject. According to www.mediinenet.com, 350 million people worldwide suffer from this disease. 40 million are in the US, with more than 250,000 being children. The numbers are staggering at first, but when you consider the term covers more than 100 types of joint (bone or attached tissue) problems, the numbers makes more sense. Arthritis is common, and the term is well known. Unfortunately, the disease is not clearly understood, which makes it harder to diagnose properly and treat appropriately.
Osteoarthritis arthritis, the most common type, is degenerative. Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage between bones wears away causing bone on bone friction. This rubbing causes pain, swelling and stiffness. Over time joints can lose strength and pain can become chronic. Risk factors include age, family history, being overweight and some injuries. The best way to avoid this kind of arthritis is to maintain your weight, stay active, and avoid injury. Mild to moderate symptoms can be managed by regular physical activity, strengthening the muscles around the joint for added support, using hot and cold compresses, over the counter anti-inflammatory medicines and/or pain relievers. Finally, balance activity with rest and avoid excessive repetitive movements to help manage your symptoms.
Inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid or psoriatic, is when your immune system goes awry and attacks joints with inflammation in an attempt to get rid of perceived infection. This type of arthritis not only erodes the joints, but can also attack internal organs, the eyes and other parts of the body. Risk factors include environment (such as smoking) and genetics. With this type of arthritis, early diagnosis is critical. Early treatment with DMARDs (a class of drugs) will help put the disease into remission and reduce pain, improve function, and prevent further damage.
Infectious arthritis can be caused by bacteria, fungus or a virus which enters the joint. Sources include food poisoning such as salmonella, contamination such as shigella, hepatitis C, and certain sexually transmitted diseases. Again, early diagnosis is critical. Antibiotics may clear the infection, but in some cases the arthritis can still become chronic.
Metabolic arthritis, also known as gout, is when excess uric acid builds up in the joints. The uric acid crystalizes in the joint and causes sudden pain, or a gout attack that can come and go. This arthritis can be treated by reducing the uric acid in your system, but it may become chronic causing continued pain and disability.
The most critical aspect of arthritis is early diagnosis. Treatment with medications, appropriate activities, and other treatments up to and including surgery for joint replacement, always start with a diagnosis with your primary care physician. Advanced arthritis may eventually result in consulting specialists such as ophthalmologists.
The second biggest factor is activity. There are many, many types of exercise you can do to reduce joint pain, improve flexibility, and prevent joint damage. Here is an article with 16 exercises for people who suffer from arthritis. You can choose one, or several, and change your life.
If you suspect you have arthritis consult your physician. Some joint damage cannot be reversed so early treatment is vital. In the meantime, remember to live a healthy, active lifestyle with lots of love and fun built in. There is no better prescription for a healthy, happy life.
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