What is arthritis? What are its symptoms and causes? This article provides a quick overview of the condition and its symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention.
Are your joints inflamed, painful, and/or hard to move? Chances are you are suffering from arthritis. Arthritis is a condition that literally means “inflammation of the joints”. The word is a combination of the Greek word arthron or ‘joint’ and the Greek suffix –it is which denotes the inflammation of an organ. Arthritis is actually not just one disease; in fact there are more than 100 different types of arthritis.
Arthritis is the second most common chronic condition in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that as much as 50 million Americans suffer from arthritis – and that’s in the United States alone. By 2030, this number is expected to increase more than 25% to 67 million. Arthritis is also one of the most disabling diseases – 19 million Americans become limited in their activities because of this. Here are some quick facts in identifying arthritis and the treatment options available for the condition.
Common Symptoms of Arthritis
Whatever the type of arthritis, common symptoms include the following:
- Tender or painful joints
- Swelling or inflamed joints
- Stiffness in the joints
- Redness in the joints
- Warmth in the joints
- A rash around the joint area
Causes and Risk Factors for Arthritis
There is no one cause for the different types of arthritis. For most kinds of arthritis, the exact cause is not even very clear yet. There are however several risk factors that may affect your chances of getting arthritis. These risk factors include:
Age. Let’s face it – the joints fall apart to wear and tear with age. The older you get, the more chances you’ve got of getting a form of arthritis.
Gender. Generally speaking, most forms of arthritis occur more commonly in women than in men.
Obesity. Excess weight places extra stress on the joints, making it wear down faster than usual.
Occupation. Some kinds of jobs require repetitive movements that stress the joints – say, typists, and haulers. Athletes are also more at risk of developing arthritis earlier in life because of the physical pressure on the joints caused by sports.
Treatments for Arthritis
Fact is, there is no magic cure for arthritis – once cartilage, ligament, or bones in the joint are destroyed or affected, it’s usually for good. There are however treatments that can provide relief from the pain and inflammation that is common in all types of arthritis. Acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen are common prescribed medications to counter pain and inflammation. Physical and occupational therapy helps improve the mobility and health of joints, provide long-term pain relief, and strengthens the supporting muscles. Lifestyle changes like exercise and weight control are often prescribed for obese or overweight people suffering from arthritis. Early aggressive treatment is especially helpful in preventing tissue damage and disability.
Prevention Is Still Key
Although arthritis cannot be totally prevented, there are ways to reduce your risk of developing the condition as well as prevent it from becoming worse. Maintaining a healthy weight places less stress on your joints. Exercise helps strengthen the muscles that support the joints. Eating a healthy diet contributes to strengthening the bones and the muscles. For people who repeatedly strain their joints at work, using joint-protecting devices and movement techniques like proper lifting and posture can help a lot in preventing early onset arthritis.
Cheng YJ, Hootman JM, Murphy LB, Langmaid GA, Helmick CG. Prevalence of doctor-diagnosed arthritis and arthritis-attributable activity limitation — United States, 2007–2009. MMWR 2010;59(39):1261–1265
News-Medical.net. Prevalence of osteoarthritis continues to rise; OA expenses nearly 100% higher for women than men,. 2009 Nov 30. http://www.news-medical.net/news/20091130/Prevalence-of-osteoarthritis-continues-to-rise3b-OA-expenses-nearly-10025-higher-for-women-than-men.aspx
National Institutes of Health - Medline Plus. Arthritis. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/arthritis.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis. http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/