Arthri­tis af­fects all age groups

The Tribune (NZ) - - YOUR BODY -

Arthri­tis causes dam­age to the joint struc­ture and sur­round­ing tis­sue, as well as con­sid­er­able pain and phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity. We tend to as­so­ci­ate arthri­tis with old age but it can af­fect peo­ple of all ages, even ba­bies and chil­dren. The con­di­tion is more com­mon with fe­males than males. There are over 100 dif­fer­ent types of arthri­tis, and half a mil­lion New Zealan­ders will have the dis­ease at some stage in their lives.

A nor­mal healthy joint has a rub­bery sub­stance called car­ti­lage that cov­ers the end of each bone and pro­vides a smooth slip­pery sur­face against which the joints move. Car­ti­lage also acts as a shock ab­sorber to re­duce the im­pact of ev­ery­day phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. With arthri­tis, the joints are swollen and stiff (which is worse after rest and im­proved by gen­tle reg­u­lar move­ment). As well as joint de­for­mity, there is pain, red­ness and heat. The pain gets worse with ac­tiv­ity, and is re­lieved by rest. Al­though there are many forms, the most com­mon are os­teoarthri­tis and rheuma­toid arthri­tis.

Os­teoarthri­tis (OA) af­fects peo­ple mainly later in life. Changes in the joints cause the car­ti­lage to break down. Large weight-bear­ing joints, like hips, knees and spines, are af­fected the most. Be­ing heav­ier and hav­ing ex­cess weight can lead to os­teoarthri­tis be­cause of the added pres­sure on the joints and the fail­ure of other sup­port­ing struc­tures around joints. OA comes on grad­u­ally, over many years.

Rheuma­toid arthri­tis (RA) is an auto-im­mune dis­ease, which means the body’s im­mune sys­tem at­tacks its own tis­sues. The joint lin­ing be­comes in­flamed and swollen and fluid builds up in the joint cav­ity. RA can also af­fect heart, lungs, nerves and eyes. In se­vere RA, the joints be­come de­formed - af­fect­ing peo­ple’s abil­ity to move. RA symp­toms tend to de­velop more quickly than with OA and the dis­ease oc­curs more in younger peo­ple, most com­monly be­tween the ages of 30 and 55 years.

Al­though there is no cure for arthri­tis, a wide range of ef­fec­tive medicines are avail­able to treat the swelling and pain, and for mod­i­fy­ing the course of the dis­ease.

Life­style mod­i­fi­ca­tions – such as weight loss, ex­er­cise and phys­i­cal ther­apy - are core com­po­nents of OA man­age­ment. Medicines are the cornerstone of RA man­age­ment, how­ever a good bal­ance be­tween rest and ex­er­cise is also im­por­tant.

Some phar­ma­cies sup­ply spe­cial equip­ment to in­crease peo­ple’s in­de­pen­dence at home.

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