ARTHRITIS & RHEUMATOLOGY
Preventative action can aid in delaying aging process
When aches and pains start to become a normal occurrence and interfere with everyday life, the source may be stemming from arthritis. An inflammation of one or more joints, arthritis typically worsens with age and can create significant pain and stiffness.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, two-thirds of those with doctor-diagnosed arthritis are under the age of 65 – debunking the myth that it is an older person disease, though the risk increases with age. After the age of 40, it can be necessary to be on the lookout for unusual aches or pains.
The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Of the two, osteoarthritis is the most common, affecting more than 27 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation. When the cartilage found in joints that cover the ends of bones breaks down and wears away, the bones are then exposed and can rub against each other causing pain and discomfort. The joint will no longer function smoothly, and movement can add stress to the joint itself. Symptoms include stiffness and pain and are most commonly found in the hips, knees, neck and fingers. Osteoarthritis can make even the simplest of tasks difficult and uncomfortable, and can be caused by injury or come with age.
Rheumatoid arthritis can occur even in childhood, and unlike osteoarthritis, it’s caused by a disease within the immune system that attacks healthy cells found in the joints. Fluid builds up causing pain and inflammation, and according to the National Institute of Health (NIH) it can also affect internal organs after the inflammation become systemic. Symptoms can include fatigue and fever in addition to the chronic pain. The Arthritis Foundation states that rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles, and that because joint involvement is symmetrical, if one joint is affected, the same joint on the other side of the body will typically be affected as well.
The onset and symptoms of arthritis can vary, and there are more than 100 different types and related conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 52 million Americans are living with doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Their 2003 study suggested that by 2030, 67 million people over the age of 18 will be diagnosed. There are a number of risk factors associated with arthritis, some of which are unavoidable. Age, gender and genetics are non-modifiable risk factors; the chances of acquiring arthritis increase as you get older, most types are found to be diagnosed in women (although specific types such as gout are more common in men), and heredity also plays a significant role. The CDC lists the “modifiable” risk factors as joint injuries, infection, occupation and weight.
While age can be a factor in developing the condition, certain lifestyle changes can be used to combat the onset particularly for those after the age of 40. Moderate, low-impact physical exercise has been shown to improve some symptoms of arthritis such as pain and function, without worsening or irritating the disease. Because people who suffer from arthritis often have a difficult time with physical activity, it’s important to discuss with a physician or physical therapist for proper instructions. In addition to exercise or physical therapy, treatment for arthritis can include medication or even surgery in more severe cases.
Medications to treat the various kinds of arthritis include pain relievers, antiinflammatories, steroids or corticosteroids, biologics and disease-modifying drugs. The Arthritis Foundation describe diseasemodifying drugs as medications that stop or slow the disease process, and biologics are drugs that control the immune response.
Surgeries can range from joint replacements to joint fusions but the hospital stay is only the beginning. Postsurgery rehabilitation and recovery should be taken seriously and planned in advance. In addition to medical treatment, selfmanagement plays a major role in living with arthritis. The CDC provides a full list of self-management programs and courses at www.cdc.gov/arthritis.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and taking preventative measures are highly suggested from both the CDC and NIH, as well as other arthritis organizations. Keeping a regular exercise routine and remaining active is a key factor, in addition to eating a balanced diet with whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids. For a list of various arthritis diets, visit www.arthritistoday.org.
If necessary, losing weight has a number of benefits, including reducing and alleviating symptoms of arthritis. Losing weight can take pressure off of joints and ease pain and inflammation. The Arthritis Foundation has a list of everyday solutions for easing or living without the pain associated with arthritis such as proper ways to do house work by protecting the joints and taking precautions at work with assistive devices if needed.