Though there isn’t yet a cure for arthritis, there is still a great deal that can be done to relieve pain
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis affects millions of people worldwide and has a considerable impact on the lives of those with arthritis. The word rheumatism is a term used in a broader sense to describe aches and pains in joints, bones, and muscles. Arthritis refers to inflammation within the joint but it can also be due to inflammation of the tendons and ligaments surrounding the joint.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptom is a pain in the joints, which can be mild to severe causing disability. The pain can be associated with stiffness of the joints, which is worse in the morning on waking up. Some may have pain and stiff- ness in the entire body too, and at times there can be swelling of the affected joints also. Arthritis dam- ages the surface of the joint and at times the underlying bone. If not treated, the disease progresses and causes a destruction of the joint that can result in deformities. Arthritis can also affect the skin and multiple organs.
The most common symptom is a pain in the joints, which can be mild to severe causing disability. The pain can be associated with stiffness of the joints, which is worse in the morning on waking up. Some may have pain and stiff- ness in the entire body too, and at times there can be swelling of the affected joints also. Arthritis dam- ages the surface of the joint and at times the underlying bone. If not treated, the disease progresses and causes the destruction of the joint that can result in deformities. Arthritis can also affect the skin and multiple organs.
Types of Arthritis
There are over 100 different types of arthritis. The two most common ones are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Oth- ers include gout, ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). Arthritis can be caused by infections too, though such cases have been extremely rare.
- The most common arthritis — osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease), also referred to as OA affects middle age to elderly people. The spine and weight-bearing joints such as the knees, ankles and hips are more frequently affected by osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis of the fingers thumbs and wrists reduces grip strength and ability to perform everyday tasks such as writing, picking up things household work, etc. OA is a leading cause of disability in the elderly.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is the commonest type of inflammatory arthritis affecting nearly one percent of the population, of which three-fourth are women. The wrist, joints of the fingers and feet involved more than others. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to strike in the prime of life between the ages of 30 and 50 years and can have a devastating impact on quality of life and one’s ability to carry out everyday tasks.
- Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is another form of inflammatory arthritis that affects the joints of the spine. It causes back pain and stiffness and usually affects young men.
- Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs in people who have a skin rash called psoriasis. This usually develops between the ages of 35 and 50 years but can begin in childhood also.
- Arthritis in children is termed as juvenile arthritis and can start as early as infancy.
Though there isn’t yet a cure for arthritis, there is still a great deal that can be done to relieve the symptoms of arthritis and enable one to live with arthritis. The ear- lier the treatment is begun, themore effective it is. Treatment has to be tailored to the needs of each individual because the severity, impact, and type of arthritis are different from person to person. Drug therapy treats various symptoms of arthritis like analgesics and anti- inflammatory, which eventually relieves pain and stiffness. Drugs, which suppress inflammation, the disease modifying drugs, and the DMARDS are the mainstay in the treatment of inflammatory arthritis. These include oral and inject- able preparations. The medications are beneficial but have to be taken under the regular supervision of the rheumatologist.
Lifestyle Changes in Arthritis
For those with arthritis, regular ex- exercise is very important. The joints should be put through a full range of movement at least once a day. This retains mobility, reduces pain, relieves stress, keeps the muscles strong and protects the joints. Stiff joints, if not exercised regularly, become stiffer and end in deformity, which may require surgical correction. Instructions for the exercise regimen can be obtained from the physiotherapist because improper exercise can damage the joints. Rest is also important, especially during flares when there is a lot of inflammation. Exercise and rest have to be balanced.
For people with arthritis, it is important to maintain the body weight within the normal range, overweight puts extra strain on the joints. Following a healthy diet with plenty of fibre and fruit, avoiding too much of meat or ani- mal fat helps maintain the weight and feel better. It is better to avoid or limit alcohol as the drugs pre- scribed for arthritis can interact with alcohol.