Arthritis causes swelling of the bones and joints. It can be very painful, debilitating and stressful to live with. In addition to the pain and inflammation, other symptoms include stiffness; restriction of movement in the joints; couple with redness and warmth of the skin over the affected joints.
Types of Arthritis
In the UK alone, more than nine million people suffer from arthritis. There are two principal types: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, together with several other forms of arthritis. While it is a condition more commonly associated with adults, juvenile idiopathic arthritis (or JIA) can affect children. This is, however, rare, with around one in 1,000 children being affected.
The most common form of arthritis in the UK is osteoarthritis, with some 8.5m people affected. It is most likely to develop in the joints of the hands, spine, hips and knees. With this form of the disease, the cartilage between the bones slowly wastes away. As a result, the bones rub painfully against each other in the joints.
Osteoarthritis is most likely to develop in people over 50 but it can appear at any age as a result of another joint condition or an injury. While the cause is not yet fully understood, it is thought that some people are more genetically predisposed to developing the condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis is less common but more severe. In this form of arthritis, the body’s own immune system attacks the joints, causing pain and swelling. This leads to a restriction of movement and causes irreparable damage to both the cartilage and to the underlying bone.
Rheumatoid arthritis is three times more likely to affect women than men. Onset usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 50.
The disappointing news for the many millions of sufferers and their families is that, as yet, there is no cure for arthritis. There are, however, some treatments that may help in slowing down the progress of the condition. Medication to ease the symptoms is also available.
To tackle osteoarthritis, painkillers and anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal drugs will often be prescribed. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended. Procedures such as joint replacement therapy (arthroplasty); joint fusion (arthodesis); and the addition or removal of bone (osteotomy) may all prove to be of value.
The impact of the disease can be mitigated to an extent through regular exercise and by losing weight. Taking exercise is the most important thing you can do because it helps to build up muscle. This strengthens the joints and reduces arthritic symptoms.
Carrying any extra weight may exacerbate the impact of osteoarthritis, placing additional strain on the damaged joints. It is therefore important to maintain your ideal weight through exercise and healthy-eating under the supervision of a competent medical professional.
For rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, the focus is on slowing the progress of the disease and minimizing damage to the joints. Recommended treatments include disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, also known as DMARDs.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) should help to relieve pain and to reduce swelling in the joints. If NSAIDs prove to be ineffective, corticosteroids may be the solution. These are delivered either in tablet form or via an injection into the muscle. Physiotherapy and regular exercise are proven to be effective.