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Arthritis

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Arthritis is often referred to as a single disease although it is actually a group of medical conditions. It primarily involves damage to body joints and affects almost 46 million adults and 300,000 in the United States alone. There are different forms of arthritis and most are prevalent among individuals over 30 years of age. It is not uncommon for other forms to manifest as early as a person’s infancy stage. Over 100 conditions affect the musculoskeletal system particularly the joints or the point where two or more bones meet.

Some types of arthritis can be more devastating wherein they are classified as systemic and affect the entire body. Any organ or system within the body can be disrupted or damaged such as the heart, lungs and skin. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among individuals over 55 years of age. Together with other associated conditions, it is the major cause of disability in America. The numbers are actually growing and several billions of dollars are spent yearly. At present, about 350 million people worldwide suffer from the condition.

ARTHRITIS SYMPTOMS

There are over 100 forms of arthritis which is why symptoms also vary depending on the extent, severity and body part affected. Pain is the most common symptom present in the affected joint. Pain or tenderness becomes more excruciating whenever the person moves or performs an activity. Inflammation of the joint will be noticed through swelling, redness, warm feeling in the area and stiffness. Range of motion in the area will be limited because of pain and stiffness. The joint may also appear deformed in some cases. It is possible for the patient to have crepitus which is described as a grinding sensation as if two bones are rubbing together.

Other associated symptoms of arthritis include extreme fatigue, weakness, lack of energy, sudden weight loss and fever. In more severe cases wherein vital organs are involved, the patient may also exhibit abnormalities in blood pressure, breathing, etc. Impaired mobility in terms of fine or gross motor activity may result as well such as difficulty walking, rising from bed or fixing buttons.

ARTHRITIS CAUSES

The causes of arthritis may vary depending on the type. Experts believe that the problem results from a combination of genetic predisposition, lifestyle practices and environmental factors. Gouty arthritis is caused by high amounts of uric acid in the body. Diet is the obvious culprit due to the intake of excessive alcohol and protein. Dysfunctional kidneys may also be the cause in some cases. Infectious arthritis or Lyme Disease is caused by bacteria specifically spirochete which are passed on through a deer tick bite. Some individuals who repeatedly strain or injure their joints and cartilage like athletes are prone to develop osteoarthritis later on. Hormonal causes are more common among women. Obesity can also cause rheumatoid arthritis since persons’ knees carry unnecessary weight most of the time. Age is another factor to consider since many forms of arthritis develop as people grow older.

Some of the other forms of arthritis include ankylosing spondylitis, fibromyalgia, lumbosacral arthritis, cervical arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis which usually starts during a person’s teenage years, osteoporosis, osteonecrosis, osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, Paget’s Disease, Reiter’s Syndrome and other rheumatoid diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis is considered as an auto-immune disorder wherein blood cells cause the synovium or surrounding joint membranes to become inflamed. Environmental causes include smoking, viruses and drug ingestion.
Arthritis
Image: Arthritis

ARTHRITIS TREATMENT

At present, there is no known cure for arthritis so treatment measures usually revolve around alleviation of the corresponding symptoms as well as preventing the condition to get worse. Pain is basically treated with alternate periods of activity and rest. Joint and range of motion exercises will help reduce pain as well as improve mobility. Spending 20 to 30 minutes of light walking and rotational movements twice a day will help improve endurance and minimize fatigue.

Rest periods throughout the day will help keep joints in good condition and protected from stress due to repeated work. Joints of arthritic patients should be used without adding unnecessary pressure. Hot and cold compresses placed alternately on joints will provide short-term pain relief. Mild massage on surrounding muscles will also help improve circulation and minimize fatigue.

There are over-the-counter medications as well that help alleviate pain and treat causative factors that may be making the condition worse. Your primary health care provider will be able to prescribe the best anti-arthritic drugs such as NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, analgesics or painkillers, DMARDs or disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs and antibiotics. Make sure you know the contraindications and possible side effects to maximize use and prevent complications.

Patients should regularly visit their physician for a comprehensive physical exam. They will most likely be provided with the right medications, diet and exercise regimen. Those with gouty arthritis may be warned to consume less protein and sources high in uric acid. Joint surgery may be indicated if all other means of treatment are rendered ineffective. When joint damage is already very severe and interferes with normal mobility and function, a procedure may be done which involves drawing out uric crystals or injecting synovial fluid. Joint replacement surgery has been the answer to many arthritic patients’ problems.

ARTHRITIS PREVENTION

Arthritis is very preventable through healthy lifestyle habits. People should start eating healthy well-balanced diets rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat protein. Being overweight can be prevented through a sound diet and exercise plan. Exercising 3 to 4 times a week using a combination of strength and cardiovascular exercises will improve bone density decreasing the risk for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

Smoking and alcohol should be limited or stopped altogether since these can weaken bone structure. It is also helpful to take vitamins and minerals that boost calcium levels. Hormone replacement therapy or HRT is a good preventive measure for post-menopausal women to maintain normal estrogen and calcium levels. Investing in well-cushioned shoes is also great to keep stress off your ankles and knees.
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