Arthritis. We hear the word and typically think of elderly people who are experiencing aches and pains in their joints. The truth is that this is only a small part of the story. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis affects 50 million adults in the United States (most of whom are younger than 65 years old), costs our country $128 billion per year, and is the most common cause of disability in the United States.
So…what exactly is arthritis? What are the main symptoms? And how can it be better managed?
The Arthritis Foundation designated the month of May Arthritis Awareness Month. The goal of Arthritis Awareness Month is to answer questions like the ones above and to raise awareness of the key issues related to arthritis. Additionally, it is a hope that it will help people who suffer with arthritis become more aware of self-management options that can improve arthritis symptoms and quality of life.
There are Arthritis Walk events taking place in hundreds of communities throughout the United States and throughout the year. These events are not only a chance to raise awareness, but to raise funds to help fight arthritis and general chronic joint pain.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a condition involving damage to the joints of the body. It can greatly impact the lives of the people who suffer from it. While there are hundreds of types of arthritis, there are two major types: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is also referred to as degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis. It can result from overuse of joints or be caused by demanding sports, obesity, or aging. Osteoarthritis is most common in weight bearing joints such as the knees, hips, feet, and spine. Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis may include:
- Deep, aching pain in a joint
- Difficulty gripping objects
- Joint may be warm to touch
- Pain when walking
- Swelling of a joint
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s own defense system (the immune system) goes awry and attacks parts of the body, causing inflammation. The body’s immune cells now perceive their own tissues as a foreign intruder and begin attacking these normal joint tissues. Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to severe joint damage and even deformities. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can come on gradually or start very suddenly, and are often more severe, causing pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, stiffness and possibly fever. Stiffness on arising in the morning, which may have started as a temporary nuisance, can begin to last for hours or even most of the day, and is a hallmark of inflammatory arthritis.
Arthritis can be life-altering. Since there is no cure for arthritis at this time, people suffering from the disease must manage it to the best of their abilities. There are, however, many positive approaches to the management of arthritis:
- Physical activity – exercise can help keep your joints mobile and your muscles strong. Water-based exercise and other low-impact, slow-motion exercises are especially good because they are easy on the joints.
- Diet – eating a balanced diet rich with fruits and vegetables is always a good idea. There are also certain foods that are beneficial for arthritis pain and inflammation.
- Weight loss – losing weight if you are overweight or obese can reduce symptoms and slow arthritis progression.
- Self-management education – learning techniques to reduce pain and increase activity can help arthritis sufferers to gain control of the disease.
- Medication – Osteoarthritis treatment is primarily directed at improving quality of life and function by reducing pain. In general, medications do not prevent degenerative joint damage. In contrast, in inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid, early intervention with medication has been proven to prevent future joint damage, deformity, and disability.
For more resources and information, please visit the following websites:
- Arthritis Foundation
- National Institute of Arthritis & Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
- Arthritis Today Magazine
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)
- Rheumatology at Harvard Vanguard