Overview – What is it?
Arthritis is a term used to refer to over 200 rheumatic diseases or conditions of the joints. It causes inflammation of one or more joints. The condition can be brought about by wear and tear of the joint’s cartilage and the body’s immunity attacking the lining of the joint capsule, among other risk factors such as previous joint injury and family history.
Some of the symptoms experienced by people with arthritis are stiffness of the joint and, joint pain and swelling.
The diagnosis of this condition is done using laboratory tests, and imaging tests such as analysing different body fluids and CT scan.
Treating arthritis can be done using medication, therapy and surgery.
You can prevent yourself from getting certain types of arthritis by maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking and eating healthy, among other lifestyle changes.
Causes – What causes it?
The cause of arthritis depends the type of arthritis one has. The main types of arthritis are:
- Osteoarthritis: Occurs as a result of wear and tear of joint cartilage which can result in a bone grinding directly on another bone, causing pain and restricting movement. It can occur over a long period or it can be brought about faster by injury or infection of the joints.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: This type of arthritis on the other hand, occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule which is a tough membrane that encloses all the joint parts. The lining becomes inflamed and swollen and it can destroy the cartilage and bone, over time.
Risk factors for arthritis include:
- Previous joint injury due to activities like sports putting a person at a higher risk of getting arthritis.
- Obesity and overweightness causes strain on the joints especially on the hips, knees and spine, and that increases arthritis risk
- People who are 65 years and above have a higher risk of developing arthritis even though it can affect even children and young adults.
- Certain types of arthritis can be inherited. If a family member has had arthritis, then that can increase your risk of getting the condition as well.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
The most common arthritis symptoms are related to the joints depending on the type of arthritis and the severity of the condition. Some symptoms include:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Swelling of the joints
- Skin turning red around the affected joint
- Decreased range of motion
- Joint warmth
- Difficulty walking
- Locking of joints
In rheumatic arthritis, one may also experience:
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling of lymph nodes
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
- Initial consultation: During the consultation, the doctor finds out the patient’s medical history and does a physical exam to check for any noticeable signs like joint redness, swelling and warmth after which other tests can be done.
- Laboratory tests: These are done to analyse different body fluids which can help in identifying the type of arthritis one has.
- Imaging tests: These are done to detect problems within the joints that may be hard to notice with the naked eye. The tests used are:
- X-ray: To give visual images of the bone which can show the cartilage loss and any damage to the bone and bone spurs. X-rays are mostly used to track the progress of the condition.
- Ultrasound: It is used to give images of soft tissues, cartilage and fluid-containing structures by using high-frequency sound waves.
- Computerised tomography and Magnetic resonance imaging: They are used to give images of the inner organs that are more detailed than other imaging tests.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment for arthritis is aimed at relieving the symptoms and improving joint function as the condition has no cure. The treatment options include:
- Medications: These depend of the type of arthritis a person has. Some of the medicines used include:
- Counterirritants which are used to relieve pain and they come in different creams and ointments.
- Corticosteroids that reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system in rheumatoid arthritis.
- Analgesics which are used to reduce pain, but do not have an effect on inflammation
- Therapy: In some types of arthritis, physical therapy is done to improve the range of motion and strengthen muscles surrounding joints. Splints and braces may be used in some cases. Apart from physical therapy, there is occupational therapy which involves managing how we do our everyday tasks so as to protect our joints from further damage.
- Surgery: When the condition does not get any better, surgery may be suggested by your doctor. This is used to:
- Repair joints: It involves smoothening or realigning a joint to improve its functionality and reduce pain. It can be done through a minimally invasive procedure.
- Joint fusion: Mostly used for smaller joints like the wrist and ankle by removing the ends of two joints and locking them together until they heal and become a single unit.
- Replace joints: Removing a damaged joint and replacing it with an artificial one. It is common for hips and knees
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
For some types of arthritis such as those that are inherited, there is no specific way to prevent them. However, there are other types that can be prevented by:
- Taking safety precautions to prevent injuries that can result in joint problems which can lead to arthritis. Some of the safety precautions could include wearing protective gear when playing games like hockey.
- Managing how you do your everyday activities including carrying heavy things and checking your posture when sitting, among other things, that can help in protecting your joints from preventable damage or injury. You can use assistive devices to do certain things like using a crane to lift heavy loads, using raised toilet seats and other devices that can help in protecting your joints and improve the ability to do daily activities.
- Eating a healthy diet rich in vegetable and fruits, and less of foods with a lot of fats and salt and avoiding too much sugar. You should also avoid processed foods, fried foods, high meat consumption and excessive amounts of dairy products.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight to avoid exerting too much weight on your joints, especially your knees.
- Exercising regularly to keep your joints flexible and reduce stress on weight bearing joints.
- Avoiding or getting treatment for infections that can lead to joint arthritis.
- Going for regular check-ups especially if you are at a high risk of developing arthritis.
- Balancing physical activity with rest to avoid putting stress on your joints.
- Not smoking and limiting alcohol intake.