What is Arthritis?
The word arthritis comes from the Latin word ‘arthron’ which means joint. Thus, any physical condition in the joint of a body is called arthritis. It is the inflammation, i.e. the redness, swelling or hotness, stiffness and pain experienced at a particular area of our joints in our body. It is a degenerative disease and can generally occur in any age, but generally occurs as people age.
In fact, arthritis has been the one of the major causes of disability in United States and many other countries around the world.
So much so that arthritis is being termed as the epidemic of the 21st century.
Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis
Signs of Arthritis:
- A person gets a feeling of being unwell for prolonged period of times
- Loss of weight
- Sweating at night
- Bouts of fever
- Rashes over the skin
- Being fatigued and tired
- Stiffness in the joints early in the morning
- Pain in the joint on account of slightest of movements
- Swelling in areas where there is inflammation
Types of Arthritis
Scientists have found out more than 100 types of arthritis, but, majorly, there are 7-12 types of arthritis. They can broadly be classified into two broad categories -- degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) and inflammatory arthritis. Listed below are few types of arthritis:-
The other type of arthritis is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). In this case, it is the body’s own immune system which attacks organs and joints. The immune system of a person generally is designed by nature in such a fashion that it stops and terminate the invading bacteria, viruses and other foreign body. However, in the case of RA, the immune system goes into a hyperactive mode and instead of fighting foreign bodies, it attacks healthy tissues. In RA, the immune system assaults the synovium, which is nothing but the lining of the joints.
In the case of osteoarthritis (OA), the cartilage which protects the joint gets ruptured. This hinders and thereby makes the movement of the joints so affected painful and cumbersome. This, over a period of time causes bones to rub against one another, which is the created sever pain. The magnitude of the pain experienced by a person afflicted by osteoarthritis can be mild to very severe.
Fibromyalgia is the condition which affects the entire body. What happens is that the brain and the backbone, where there are millions of nerves, processes pain in a different manner. Thus, even a simple touch or a slight movement which not painful to others will be painful to a person afflicted by fibromyalgia.
It generally is widespread pain throughout the body. The pain can intermittent or constant. This condition also leads to other symptoms, like exhaustion, irregular sleep patterns, lack of concentration and mood swings.
Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA), like rheumatoid arthritis, is an autoimmune disease, wherein the immune system attacks the different parts of a person’s body—it attacks joints, which cause arthritis, PsA also attacks the tissues which connects the ligaments or tendons which are affixed to the bones, which causes enthesitis and it also attacks the skin, causing psoriasis.
Lupus is also an immune system induced disease which affects various parts of the body – organs, skin, blood, brain, kidneys and joints. It causes itchiness of the skin, exhaustion, loss of hair, oversensitivity to light and issues with kidney.
Gout, unlike rheumatoid arthritis and Psoriatic arthritis, is not characterised by inflammation throughout the body, but rather it is condition created by the body whereby it is not able to dispose off uric acid from your system or if your body produces too much of uric acid (hyperuricemia).
This excess uric acid in turn gives rise of crystals, which causes a very severe form of inflammation. Gout generally affects the big toe of a person. A person suffering from gout may feel good at the time of going to bed, but would end up feeling unbearable pain.
This condition affects a person's spine. Stiffness and pain are the features of this condition and leads to the amalgamation of the bones in a joint.
When calcium pyrophosphate crystals amass in joints, pseudogout occurs. It is an inflammatory arthritis. It is largely found in the knee, though it affects any part of the knee.
Causes of Arthritis
The chief causes of arthritis are as follows:
- Ageing -- People develop arthritis as they age. Some contract early and some late
- Infections -- Borreliosis is an infection transmitted by the blacklegged ticks. This causes arthritis
- Inheritance -- Osteoporosis is one such type of arthritis which is inherited genetically
- Dysfunction of the immune system -- Rheumatoid Arthritis is an example of an improper immune system attacking a person’s joints and other organs.
- Irregular Metabolism -- The affliction of gout, which causes formation of excess uric acid in the body or inability of the body to eject it, causes crystal in joints, thereby causing inflammation
How to Prevent Arthritis?
Medical experts are of the opinion that sooner or later, everyone will contract arthritis in the course of time. The question is how do we delay the onset of severe forms of arthritis and remain with healthy joints for a prolonged time.
One research suggests that arthritis is a ticking time bomb. You may feel very energetic and over the top in your 30’s and the 40’s, but this is specifically the age where we need to give due consideration to certain things in our life.
- Every extra pound of weight brings you closer quickly to this degenerative disease. The cartilage is affected by the amount a weight a body frame handles; thus, in increase in weight brings about its degeneration
- Excessive exercise or weight training also effects in damaged joints. Doctors suggest that one should undertake low-impact sports such as swimming -- which offers no resistance to joints -- yoga, biking etc. Even walking if done, should not be too brisk. Also, walking or jogging on surfaces that are flat compared to inclined surface renders more stress on the joints thereby leading to the rapid degeneration of the cartilage
- Watching your posture when sitting, bending, lifting etc. plays a key role in determining the overall suppleness and flexibility of joints. For instance, ploughing or digging a field by farmer if not done by proper implements or equipments also adds to his joints being susceptible to joint pain
- Though the medical fraternity is divided over the efficacy of supplements in relieving arthritis, they nonetheless concur that even if there is not positive effect, delaying the onset of or reducing the pace of decline of the cartilage is indeed a positive effect in the long term.
- Insufficient treatment of injuries, especially those pertaining to the ankles, hasten the pace of arthritis in the middle ages of a person’s life. Thus, timely and appropriate treatment of injuries goes a long way in warding off symptoms of arthritis
Treatment of Arthritis
The medical fraternity is divided whether or not arthritis can be revered or not. Some are of the opinion that it can be reversed with proper diet and moderate; while other experts believe that it is a life-long condition and can only be managed with medications and exercises.
Having said that, the major issue is at alleviating pain and in lessening the harm and injury done to joints.
With development in science and technology, many people use devices with assist with mobility for people with advanced stage of arthritis, to take the pressure off your joints
Physicians prescribe a number of medications to treat arthritis:
- Painkillers -- Acetaminophen or hydrocodone are effective in keeping the pan at bay, but are not that effective in reduction of inflammation.
- Menthol creams impedes the communication of pain from your joints to your brain, thus, creating an effective ‘painless’ situation.
- Immunosuppressants help in the reduction of pain caused by inflammation
- Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs help manage the pain caused by inflammation
Many people undergo surgery -- such as knee and hip replacement -- where they replace a natural joint with an artificial one, which gives an extended period of movement and dexterity to people.
In extreme cases of arthritis in wrists and fingers, doctors usually perform an operation wherein the end parts of the patients’ bones are latched together until it heals to become one whole.
This therapy requires performing certain exercises that toughen and nourish the muscles in the nearby areas of the affected joint as an arthritic treatment.
Lifestyle Changes that need to be adopted
- Having a healthy weight or reduction in excessive weight helps in steady alleviation of symptoms caused by osteoarthritis
- Diet with a higher proportion of anti-oxidants and fibres such as vegetables, fruits etc. reduce the chances of inflammation. Even nuts and certain types of fish have proved to be good in reducing inflammation.
- Omega 3 fatty acids are found to give tremendous relief to those affected with stiffness of joints and inflammation.
- Turmeric contains curcumin, which is loaded with anti-inflammatory properties helps reduction in pain caused by arthritis.
- In fact red meat, fried foods, processed foods and even dairy products have shown to increase inflammation in a person.
- Few researches also suggest that a diet free of gluten reduces the onset of disease and reduces inflammation in arthritic patients.
- Exercise -- Regular exercise in moderation is the way to go keep joints supple and springy. Swimming is considered an ideal sport to prevent arthritis and reduce its symptoms as water offers no resistance to joints. In fact, jogging and brisk walking makes ones bones more prone to joint pains and inflammation.
- Light exercises like aerobics and yoga increases flexibility and help in prevention of arthritis.
- Though there is no cure for arthritis so far, doctors suggest a healthy lifestyle of proper diet, exercise and regular medical check-ups to prevent or minimize the risk of contracting arthritis.
- Hot & Cold Therapy
Warm showers of bath in the morning helps in easing stiffness of the joints and cold treatment, i.e. applying cold ice over the inflamed part of the body helps alleviate joint pain in people.
Alternative Treatments for Arthritis
- Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese technique to insert needles in various parts of the body to unblock energy and improve blood supply, is so good with arthritis that many people are thinking if acupuncture should be considered in the category of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)
- Tai Chi, the ancient non-combative martial art, consisting of slow movements, has been found to be quite effective in successfully giving relief from degenerative joint disease.
- Massage is quite effecting in treating pains caused due to lower back pain and fibromyalgia. This was found after conducting tests on more than 14,000 participants and the results were consistent
- Yoga was adjudged to be good in treating pains associated with lower backs. Yoga increases flexibility and strengthens the tendons and cartilages
Arthritis Around The World
- In the US, the population to be afflicted by arthritis will be 78 million by 2040
- Though the Chinese appear thin on stature, the prevalence of osteoarthritis is very high among them
- India has over 15% population afflicted with arthritis and this number will continue to grow
- There are more women than men afflicted by arthritis
- It is difficult to detect arthritis in sportspeople due to their high tolerance to pain
- Perception towards arthritis: People in lower-income countries, though they experience severe symptoms of arthritis, are in a generally buoyant mood as compared with people in higher income countries with better medication and healthcare facilities.
- The United States loses on an annualized basis, more than $ 100 billion on account of arthritis; out of which half of that is from lost earnings by employees needing to be hospitalized and cost of medication.