Arthritis is a disease that causes inflammation of the joints. It can also affect the muscles and internal organs; affecting a person at any time in their life. Tenderness around a joint, limited movement, redness and warmth are often the first signs of arthritis.
Two of the most common conditions are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis and its treatment
Nicknamed the “wear and tear disease,” osteoarthritis is most commonly found in people aged 65 years and over. This disease affects the joints and the surrounding tissue. It usually affects one or a few of the joints which are knees, hips, hands and spine.
Its aims of treatment include:
- strengthening muscles and mobility of joints by exercise
- reduce strain on affected joints
- taking painkillers when needed
- losing weight if necessary
Rheumatoid arthritis and its treatment
Rheumatoid arthritis is known as the “autoimmune connective tissue disease” and is most commonly found in women between the ages of 30 and 50 years old.
This disease is a lot more complicated; it occurs when the immune system attacks the cell lining inside the joint, which leaves the joints to move less fluidly. This is how the inflammation transpires. Symptoms are usually joint stiffness, joint pain, swelling and loss of joint movement.
Its treatment aims to:
- relieve symptoms
- preserve muscle strength and joint movement
- prevent joints from further damage
- help individual to lead a normal life
Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are often taken to reduce swelling and discomfort for rheumatoid arthritis but these only keep the problem at bay rather than it being a long-term aid. There are several drugs which are used to prevent joint damage – methotrexate, sulfasalazine, azathioprine, leflunomide, gold salts, penicillamine and hydroxychloroquine. Methotrexate and sulfasalazine have proved to be the most effective and are therefore the most commonly used.
Arthritis is often genetic so a doctor will ask if there is any history of sufferers within the family. However, it can also occur from infection or a virus (reactive arthritis.)
Tests such as blood tests and x-rays could be taken. An ESR blood test measuring the stickiness in red blood cells is read and if it is particularly high, it concludes that there may be inflammation within the body. A reading taken from someone suffering from osteoarthritis would have either no inflammation or it would be very mild and so the ESR would be normal.
A blood test may also be taken for the Rheumatoid Factor. This is an antibody that appears in the blood, this generally increases in normal people as they age.
X-rays can be suggested as these would show if the arthritis has affected the bones. The x-ray will show if the bones have started to erode or even if there has been bone growth (osteophytes). Arthritis can sometimes cause extra bone to grow at the edges of the affected joints.
In some cases, a general practitioner may be able to make a diagnosis. Sometimes however, referral to a hospital specialist may be needed.
Exercise to keep joints strong
There is a common fear that exercise can further damage already delicate joints. It is however extremely important that the right exercise is taken to maintain flexible joints and muscle strength.
Do’s: Stretching, muscle-strengthening, general fitness or aerobic exercise.
Don’ts: Sit-ups (causes strain on spine), squats (causes strain on knee) and never crack joints.