WHAT IS ARTHRITIS?
Simply put, arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. It affects millions of people in the UK and, sadly, because it is such a common illness, it gets little sympathy from those who don’t suffer from it.
There are over 100 different types of arthritis, with each one varying in severity and consequences.
SYMPTOMS OF ARTHRITIS
Pain in the joints, stiffness and swelling around the joints are the most obvious and common signs of arthritis. You may not be as flexible as you once were and movement becomes more difficult; you may even notice redness of the skin around your joints. In fact, many people notice that their symptoms are worse in the morning, having spent many hours being inactive.
With rheumatoid arthritis you may suffer from loss of appetite or feel very tired during the day.
You should not ignore these symptoms as you may become anaemic, which means that your red blood cell count decreases. This, in the most severe cases, can lead to deformity of the joints if left untreated.
Arthritis doesn’t usually come upon you suddenly but creeps in over a period of time; though in some cases it can be almost immediate.
It is a common misconception that arthritis is restricted to the elderly – although they are the age group most affected. It can develop in children, teenagers and young adults too; though women and people who are overweight are more susceptible.
Your joints are connected by a flexible tissue called cartilage.
Cartilage protects your joints by simply absorbing pressure when you move or go about your everyday activity. All movement – to a greater or lesser degree – creates shock, and this shock puts stress on your cartilage tissue. In turn this shock reduces the amount of cartilage tissue which can cause some types of arthritis.
Normal daily wear and tear has its effect on the body and can be the cause of osteoarthritis. Just like a car, after many years of service parts become worn and tired.
An injury or infection can hasten the speed of cartilage breakdown and the risk may be even greater if you have a history of the disease in your family.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder.
It happens when your own body attacks itself, causing damage to your tissue and the soft tissue in your joints that nourishes the cartilage and lubricates the joints.
HOW IS ARTHRITIS DIAGNOSED?
The first step is to see your doctor and discuss your symptoms. They will give you a simple physical examination to check for fluid around the joints and check for redness and motion. Your doctor can then refer you to a specialist if needed.
HOW IS ARTHRITIS TREATED?
The main goal of treatment, no matter what form of arthritis you have, is to lessen the amount of pain you are suffering and to prevent any further damage to your joints.
Using walking canes and frames can help with mobility, but they don’t decrease the pain.
There is no ‘cure all’ answer to treatment of arthritis; though your doctor or specialist will be able to decide the best medication for your particular symptoms – from analgesics to anti-inflammatory drugs and immunosuppressants, such as cortisone to help reduce inflammation.
Arthritis is a complicated disease to which, as yet, there is no absolute cure.