The word Arthritis is derived from the Greek "Arthro" (meaning joint) and "itis" (meaning inflammation) and is a term used to refer to a collection of over one hundred conditions involving swelling and inflammation of joints and tissue. However, the most common forms of arthritis are: Back to Top of your health online page
Osteoarthritis - This form of arthritis is generally caused by wear and tear and is more likely to strike with age as joints degenerate. Most common in the over 40 age group. However, osteoarthritis may also be caused by injuries to joints and may therefore strike at any age.
Rheumatoid Arthritis - This is a condition where the immune system attacks joints and tissue causing chronic inflammation. This is a painful condition which may affect more than the joint itself and spread to surrounding tissue as well, including the skin, muscles, blood vessels and heart.
Gout Arthritis - Painful inflammation of joints as a result of build up of uric acid crystals.
Septic Arthritis - Caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infection of the joint. Bacterial infection being the most common.
There are a multitude of risk factors for arthritis and any one or more of these factors could increase chances of getting the disease:
Age - Degeneration and wear and tear of joint tissue is more likely as a person ages. Joints are usually cushioned with cartilage. However, as cartilage breaks down and deteriorates, joints become stiff and painful.
Heredity - It is still uncertain how much impact genes have on arthritis. However, there is some evidence that a family history of arthritis may increase risk.
Obesity - Being overweight increases the strain that joints are required to bear and accelerates the rate of deterioration.
Occupational and sports related - Certain occupations which cause constant and severe strain on joints could increase risk of arthritis. Similarly sports people whose joints are under exceptional strain would be more susceptible to arthritis.
Injury or infection - Physical injury or infection of a joint would also increase the chance of chronic inflammation resulting in arthritis.
Given that arthritis covers a large number of conditions, symptoms can vary significantly. Common symptoms may include:
Swelling, redness or warm joints indicating presence of inflammation.
Fever and fatigue.
Stiffness, tenderness and restricted movement of the joint.
Bumps or protrusions.
Arthritis may initially be diagnosed by physical examination and review of past medical history and confirmed by laboratory tests. Blood tests may be used to establish the existence of inflammation as well as to monitor the progress of the disease:
Rheumatoid factor - presence of this factor could indicate rheumatoid arthritis.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) - identifies nonspecific inflammation.
Uric Acid - Elevated levels in blood may be associated with gout.
C-Reactive Protein is produced in quick response to inflammation or infection. Presence of this protein in the blood could help identify inflammation.
Medical Imaging such as Xray and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) may also be used to diagnose arthritis. X-rays do not show soft tissue or cartilage but can be used to identify bone deformities.
MRI's on the other hand provide information on soft tissues and cartilage as well and shows even small changes in tissue.
Management and control of arthritis starts with reduction in the risk factors over which some control can be exercised. Weight control and diet can be a powerful weapon.
Maintaining an optimal weight reduces pressure on the joints and will reduce arthritic symptoms and pain. Healthy diet, eliminating smoking and reduction in consumption of alcohol and high sodium foods and drinking plenty of fluids will also help manage risk by reducing uric acid levels in the blood.
Pain and swelling in the joints is partly due to build up of waste products in the joint. Gentle exercise is extremely useful in getting rid of this build up.
A gentle exercise regimen is therefore strongly recommended for management of arthritis. Of course it is vital that a commonsense approach be adopted here.
Doctor's advise should be sought before undertaking any exercise regimen and the intensity and duration of exercise should be carefully monitored and adjusted based on the patient's response.
In addition there are of course a wide variety of pain management and anti inflammatory drugs that may be prescribed. In extreme cases surgery could be a last resort.
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