With increased aging, your body gets prone to aches and pains. You easily get fatigued and tend to experience a nagging pain especially around the joints of the legs and hands. Why does this happen? Let’s look at an overview of a common problem that is not limited by age alone – Arthritis.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is the inflammation of the joints, which can affect multiple joints at the same time. There are different types of Arthritis, the most common being -osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative arthritis, is the inflammation around a joint caused due to the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage in the joint leading to the bones rubbing against each other.
Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is not related to age but associated to deficiency in the immune system of the body. It is normally supposed to protect the body from the foreign substances like bacteria, viruses etc from attacking it. This leads to the inflammation that causes the tissues lining the joints to thicken- causing pain and swelling around the joints.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 54.4 million adults in the United States are diagnosed with some form of arthritis. And, out of these 23.7 million people have their activity curtailed in some way by their condition.
Arthritis is more common among adults aged 65 years or older, but it can affect people of all ages, including children.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Though the symptoms of Arthritis depend on the type of arthritis that affects the person, the most common symptoms seen include the following:
- Joint Pain
- Decreased range of motion
Inflammation may also be associated with general “flu”-like symptoms including:
- Fatigue/loss of energy
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle stiffness
If left untreated, it can cause severe joint deformity.
What causes arthritis?
The joints are kept flexible by a tissue called cartilage. The basic function of this tissue is to protect the joint from stress by absorbing the pressure and shock created when you move them. The normal wear and tear can cause a reduction in the amount of this cartilage. Any infection or injury to the joints can exacerbate the natural breakdown of this cartilage tissue. The reduction in the normal amount of the flexible tissue causes inflammation of the joint resulting in some form of arthritis.
What happens when there is Joint Inflammation?
When there is inflammation, there is increased blood flow to the part of the body which brings in chemicals to attract the white blood cells. The increased number of cells and inflammatory substances within the joint can cause irritation, wear & Tear of cartilage (cushions at the end of bones), and swelling of the joint lining (synovium).
Abnormal metabolism can also affect the cartilages, leading to a form of arthritis called gout and pseudo gout.
Certain risk factors have been associated with arthritis. Some of these are modifiable, that is they can be prevented from causing arthritis while others are not modifiable.
Non-modifiable risk factors:
- Age: Increased aging may increase the risk of developing arthritis
- Sex: Arthritis is more common in females, with around 60 percent comprising of women. Gout is more common in males than females.
- Genetic factors: Specific genes are associated with a higher risk of certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and ankylosing spondylitis
Modifiable risk factors:
- Overweight and obesity: excess weight can contribute to both the onset and progression of knee osteoarthritis.
- Joint injuries: Damage to a joint can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis in that joint.
- Infection: Many microbial agents can infect joints and trigger the development of various forms of arthritis.
- Occupation: Certain occupations that involve repetitive knee bending and squatting are associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
Diagnosis of arthritis includes a combination of physical examination and a couple of lab tests. The physical examination consists of checking for fluid accumulation around the joint, signs of inflammation like warmth, redness and to see if there is any limitation of movements.
Depending on the type of arthritis suspected, the tests done will vary. Common tests include blood tests and tests on the fluid around the knee joint. Blood test includes tests to check for specific antibodies such as anti-CCP (anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide), RF (rheumatoid factor), and ANA (antinuclear antibody).
Apart from lab tests, several imaging techniques can also be used to diagnose arthritis. These include:
- X-rays: X-rays can show cartilage loss, bone damage, and bone spurs. X-rays are often used to track the progression of the disease.
- Computerized tomography (CT): CTs can visualize both bone and the surrounding soft tissues.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI can produce more-detailed cross-sectional images of soft tissues such as cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
- Ultrasound. This technology uses high-frequency sound waves to capture soft tissues, cartilage and fluid-containing structures such as bursae. Ultrasound is also used to guide needle placement for joint aspirations and injections.
How is arthritis treated?
The goal of treating arthritis is to reduce the pain caused and improving joint function. Just like the combination of methods used to diagnose arthritis, there are a combination of methods used to treat arthritis.
Several different types of medication are used to treat arthritis depending on the types of arthritis:
- Analgesics– This is effective for pain management, but doesn’t help decrease inflammation.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) -It helps control pain as well as inflammation.
- Counter-irritants- It blocks the transmission of pain signals from your joints.
- Immuno-suppressants help reduce inflammation
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs used especially in case of rheumatoid arthritis
Performing surgery treats the following aspects of arthritis
- Joint repair
- Joint replacement
- Joint fusion.
Physical therapy involving exercises that help strengthen the muscles around the affected joint is a core component of arthritis treatment.
Lifestyle and home remedies :
In many cases, arthritis symptoms can be reduced with the following measures:
- Weight loss.
- Heat and cold. Heating pads or ice packs may help relieve arthritis pain.
- Assistive devices. Using canes, walkers, raised toilet seats and other assistive devices can help protect your joints and improve your ability to perform daily tasks.
Alternative medicine :
Though many use this reliability is questionable
Diet also forms an important part of managing arthritis. Here are a few suggestions to include in the diet that could help manage arthritis.
- Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, both of which may be beneficial for reducing inflammation and the severity of arthritis symptoms.
- Garlic may possess anti-inflammatory properties, and that eating it may be associated with a decreased risk of osteoarthritis.
- Broccoli has been associated with reduced inflammation. It also contains sulforaphane, which may have anti-inflammatory properties
- Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which could alleviate arthritis symptoms as well as inflammation.
- Berries contain antioxidants that have been shown to decrease arthritis-related inflammatory markers
- Spinach is rich in antioxidants, including kaempferol can reduce inflammation and slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
- Olive oil has been shown to reduce inflammation and may be associated with a lower risk of arthritis.
Suffering from arthritis could potentially affect your everyday living and have an impact on the quality of your life. However, with the right treatment, support, knowledge, and approach, you will be able to live a fulfilling, happy and successful life.