More than 52.5 million adults in the United States are affected by arthritis, which translates into one in every five adults and one in every 250 children.
Arthritis is a general term referring to conditions that affect joints, tissues surrounding joints, and other connective tissue. There are actually more than 100 types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common, affecting 31 million adults. Rheumatoid arthritis affects 1.3 million.
Osteoarthritis usually occurs later in life as the cartilage padding the bones of the joints wears away. Pain results from bones rubbing against each other. This process leads to calcium deposits and bone spurs, resulting in increased pain with movement.
Those with osteoarthritis might be hesitant to exercise, fearing increased pain and more harm to their joints, but exercise has been shown to be the most effective, non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in patients with osteoarthritis. Bike riding, swimming and water aerobics are low-impact options that can minimize joint pain.
There is nothing that can be done to replace lost cartilage, but exercise and medication can reduce the impact of arthritis. Joint replacement also might be an option.
You may inherit a tendency toward osteoarthritis or the condition may result from traumatic joint injuries from sports or auto accidents. Excess weight is also a contributing factor as it places greater stress on weight-bearing joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease most common between the ages of 30-50 and more common in women than men. It is caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking one or more joints, causing inflammation, pain, and eventually damage to the joint. Fatigue, low-grade fever and overall weakness might also be symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is more likely to affect smaller joints in the hands, wrists and feet, and usually affects multiple joints. Rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and other life-threatening disorders.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids can reduce pain and inflammation from both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. There are also disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs that can slow progression of rheumatoid arthritis and possibly send it into remission.
Family history, hormones and infections are factors to consider in diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking and exposure to certain chemicals also have been linked to the disease.
There are no long-lasting cures for arthritis, but there have been many advances in treatments in recent years. Your healthcare provider can confirm a diagnosis and begin an appropriate treatment that can make living with arthritis more bearable.
Dr. Sarah Little is a family medicine physician with Baptist Health Medical Group Primary Care—Berea.