Written by Great Emefeke (Pharm.D)
What is arthritis
Arthritis is a disease that causes one or more joints of the body to become swollen, stiff and painful. Arthritis is most commonly seen in adults over the age of 65, but it can also develop in children, teens, and younger adults. Also notable is that arthritis can worsen with age.
Types of arthritis
The three most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gouty arthritis (GA).
- Osteoarthritis: This type of arthritis is a progressive degenerative disease that occurs due to the body’s failure to repair joint damage after normal tear and wear. The strength of the joints declines with age. Osteoarthritis mostly affects the weight-bearing joints of the body such as the hips and knees.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: This type of arthritis is an autoimmune disorder which occurs when your body’s immune system attacks the tissues of the body. These attacks affect the synovium; a soft tissue in your joints that produces a fluid that nourishes the cartilage and lubricates the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis mostly affects hands and fingers, legs and toes.
- Gouty arthritis: A type of arthritis characterized by accumulation of uric acid salts in, and around the joints. It mostly affects the fingers and toes.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling are the most common symptoms of arthritis. Other symptoms include tiredness and weakness, reduced mobility, tenderness, and muscle weakness. Many people with arthritis notice their symptoms are worse in the morning.
Risk factors/causes of arthritis:
- Increasing age
- Gender (women are more likely to experience arthritis than men)
- Family history of arthritis (Heredity)
- Physical/Occupational factors
- Joint trauma
- Recurrent physical stress.
How to prevent arthritis
Arthritis can be prevented with a couple of lifestyle changes which would also improve general health and well-being. These include:
- Losing weight (if overweight), and maintaining a healthy weight. Measurement of BMI (Body Mass Index) is a good parameter to determine how healthy your weight is. A healthy BMI is 18.5 to 25 kg/m2.
- Eating a healthy (balanced) diet, with a lot of antioxidants, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and herbs.
- Regular exercise, to keep your joints flexible.
How to manage arthritis Although there is no cure for arthritis, the right treatment can greatly reduce your symptoms. In addition to the treatments your doctor/pharmacist recommends, the lifestyle changes listed above will provide added benefits for managing arthritis. The main goal of treatment is to reduce the amount of pain you are experiencing and prevent additional damage to the joints.
Several treatment options include:
- Use of oral analgesics (painkillers). These reduce pain and swelling in the joints.
- Use of topical analgesics including creams, gels, ointments, liniments and oils.
- Use of heating pads or ice packs to provide pain relief.
- Use of dietary supplements (which contain calcium, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, etc.). These help to keep the bones and joints strong, rebuild cartilage, and restore mobility.
- Use mobility assistance devices, like canes or walkers, to help take pressure off sore joints.
- Physical therapy involving exercises that help strengthen the muscles around the affected joint.
- Resting. It is important to strike a balance between exercise and rest.
- Medical procedures (such as surgery) may be resorted to when the condition is critical.