You can’t choose whether you’ll get arthritis, but you can take steps to minimize its impact on your life.
The aches and pains may come from a single joint in just one finger, or from multiple joints throughout your body. And, although the intensity of the pain may rise and fall, it may be an obstacle to performing day-to-day tasks that you once took for granted. For most types of arthritis, there’s no cure. And, even if your pain diminishes, it may never totally go away. However, there are strategies that you and your doctor can use to reduce arthritis pain, possibly slow disease progression and overcome obstacles that arthritis pain may cause.
In addition to long-available medical treatments such as pain medications and surgical joint replacement, advances continue to be made with drugs, surgery and other therapies. And, it’s well established that your attitude and lifestyle are an integral part of optimal treatment.
TWO MAIN TYPES
Arthritis occurs in more than 100 forms with varying signs and symptoms. Generally, arthritis refers to a disease of the joints, which can often result in joint pain, swelling, stiffness – or loss of joint function over time. Some forms of arthritis can be accompanied by problems of muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding a joint or, more rarely, your skin or internal organs. The two most common types of arthritis are: OSTEOARTHRITIS – Often called degenerative or wear-and-tear arthritis, osteoarthritis usually first appears after age 40 or 50 and develops slowly. Severe trauma to a joint can sometimes cause more rapid development of osteoarthritis. It’s thought to be caused by the wearing out of a joint through use or overuse. It occurs when cartilage – a tough, smooth, slippery tissue that cushions the bone ends in your joints -- deteriorates, causing the normally smooth surfaces to roughen. Eventually, cartilage may wear away to the point where bone ends touch and rub. The main signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain, stiffness and – occasionally – swelling in a joint. These typically come on slowly with periods of relative calm alternating with flareups. The flare-ups often follow activity involving the joint, especially when the joint is overused. Flare-ups may also coincide with a change in the weather. Osteoarthritis can occur in essentially any joint, but usually affects only a few joints on one or both sides of the body. It commonly occurs in the knees and hips, fingers, the joint at the base of the thumb and the joint at the base of the big toe. In addition, it commonly occurs in the spine. Although it’s not known exactly what causes osteoarthritis, cartilage damage is a key factor. An abnormality of your joint structure or a previous joint injury may increase your risk of developing cartilage damage. Other risk factors, in addition to simply getting older, include lack of exercise, excessive weight and certain genetic conditions. RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS – This usually begins between the ages of 25 and 50, often developing within weeks or months. About 75 per cent of those with rheumatoid arthritis are women. Unlike osteoarthritis, which is primarily associated with wear and tear of a joint or a joint injury, rheumatoid arthritis is considered an autoimmune disease. That means your immune system attacks parts of your body. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system primarily attacks joint linings (synovial membranes), which are supposed to protect and lubricate your joints. When your immune system attacks your synovial membranes, they become inflamed, causing your joints to feel warm, painful and swollen, or to become stiff – particularly in the morning. If inflammation persists, certain chemicals and enzymes may be released that begin to eat away at cartilage and bone, and cause damage to tendons and ligaments around the joint. Over time, muscles surrounding the joint may become weak, and the joint may eventually be destroyed. Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects corresponding joints on both sides of the body, often starting with the small joints of the hands, wrists and feet. The disease can come on suddenly or gradually. In addition to joint discomfort, you may also have a general feeling of muscle aching and fatigue. Flare-ups may occur unpredictably. Beyond your joints, the immune reaction that causes rheumatoid arthritis can also cause inflammation in other parts of the body, such as your heart, lungs, nerves, blood vessels and tear or salivary glands.