The tenderness and the swelling of one or more of the joints is an onset of arthritis. It leads to the inflammation in the joints and can affect one or more joints in the body. In reality, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis, and all have their own set of causes and treatment measures. The two principal types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA).
In most cases, the symptoms of arthritis usually develop over time. However, they might also show up suddenly. Primarily, arthritis is seen in adults over 65 years of age, but it can also occur in younger adults, teens, and children. In general, arthritis is far more common in women than in men. Also, people who are overweight are more prone to arthritis.
The key symptoms of arthritis involve pain in the joints. However, depending on the type of arthritis, the symptoms may vary. Some common symptoms of arthritis include:
- Decreased motion
There is a flexible yet firm connective tissue found in the joints, which is the cartilage. It helps in keeping the joints protected by absorbing all types of shock or pressure every time one moves or puts stress on one’s joints. With the reduction in the cartilage tissue, a person will experience some of the other forms of arthritis.
The most common type of arthritis, OA, occurs due to the normal wear and tear of the joints. Furthermore, an injury or an infection can only intensify the breakdown of the cartilage in the bones.
RA, which is another common type of arthritis, occurs when the immune system of the body attacks the tissues of the body. These regular attacks can hamper the synovium, which is an extremely brittle tissue in the joints. Synovium produces a fluid that helps in the lubrication of the joints and nourishes the cartilage. Thus, RA is related to the destruction of synovium, and it can destroy or invade one’s joints. RA might also destroy both the cartilage and the bones inside the joints.
However, the exact reason or the cause of the attack on the immune system is not known. But, scientists believe that genetic markers may accelerate one’s chances of developing RA almost five times.
The key risk factors involved in arthritis include:
There is a higher risk of contracting certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and osteoarthritis, as people age.
Women have a higher tendency to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men. However, gout, which is another type of arthritis, is relatively more common in men.
- Family history
There are a few types of arthritis that run in the family. So, if one’s sibling or parent has arthritis, they too might develop it. The genes make one susceptible to the environmental factors that trigger arthritis in them.
If one is a little on the heavier side, the stress put on the joints, primarily the spine, knees, and hips, is more; it makes them more vulnerable to arthritis.
- Previous injury in the joints
Anyone who has suffered an injury in the joint, probably while playing a sport, is more likely to develop arthritis.
If arthritis severely affects one’s arms or hands, it might make it hard for them to perform day-to-day tasks. Furthermore, if the arthritis is in the weight-bearing joints, it can prevent one from sitting up straight or walking comfortably. In a few people, the joints might become deformed or twisted
To diagnose arthritis, the doctor will first examine the joints for redness, warmth, and swelling. It will be followed by a physical test where the medical professional will note the agility in one’s joint movements. After this, he’ll be in a position to point out the suspected type of arthritis. Some tests will follow it. These include:
Imaging contains several tests that will help examine the real problems in one’s joints triggering the symptoms, including the following:
In X-ray, a low beam of radiation is imposed on the joint to analyze the bone. It will give an exact idea of the degree of cartilage loss in the bone, bone spurs, and the actual bone damage. Unfortunately, X-ray might not be able to detect damage in its early stage and is helpful only in tracking the disease as it progresses.
The CT-scan scanner will perform an X-ray from different angles. Then, this information will be combined to avail of a cross-sectional view of the joints. CT-scans will analyze not only the bones but also the tissues surrounding the bones.
In Ultrasound, the induction of a super-high-frequency sound wave helps in the imaging of the cartilage, soft tissues, and the fluid-containing structures around the joints. With Ultrasound, the doctor can guide the needles for taking fluid samples via injections.
In MRI, strong radio waves are induced in combination with the magnetic field to produce an elaborate cross-sectional picture of the soft tissues, such as the ligaments, tendons, and cartilage.
- Lab tests
With a thorough analysis of the body fluids, the doctor will be able to pinpoint the type of arthritis. Some fluids that are analyzed for the lab tests include joint fluid, urine, and blood. For obtaining the joint fluid for this test, the doctor will first clean the area and then numb it before inserting a needle in the joint to get hold of some liquid.
The treatment of arthritis primarily focuses on relieving the symptoms and then further improving the functionality of the joints. However, to get rid of the pain, one will have to combine several different treatments. In some cases, a combination of treatment might be needed before one can figure out the ideal one for oneself. However, all the procedures would be directed toward reducing the joint pain and further damage to the joint. With time, a person will find what works best for them in terms of controlling the pain. Many people find ice packs and heating pads soothing, whereas others use walkers, canes, or other mobility assistance devices to reduce the pressure on the sore joints. However, besides this, an improvement in the joint function is essential. For this, one’s doctor might prescribe them medication. There are other types of treatment which include:
- Clinical trials
This involves performing new tests, procedures, and interventions to manage, detect, or treat the disease.
Many medicines might be prescribed to a person by the doctor. The prescription would be different for different types of arthritis. Some of the most common medications prescribed include:
Painkillers help in pain reduction. However, they do nothing for inflammation. In most cases, a person will be prescribed acetaminophen, but if the pain is higher than normal, they’ll be prescribed medicines, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, or ortramadol; these drugs work on the CNS and ease the pain in the joints. But they have their side effects. If taken regularly, one might have a mental or physical dependence on these drugs.
Cortisone and prednisone are included in this type of medication. It suppresses the immune system and simultaneously reduces inflammation. These drugs can either be injected directly into the joint or might be consumed orally.
There are a few ointments and creams, which have capsaicin or menthol in them. It will hinder the transmission of the pain-associated signals right at the joint when one rubs these ointments onto the skin or over the aching joint.
NSAIDs are highly effective in reducing both inflammation and pain. Some common types of NSAIDs include naproxen and ibuprofen. Other varieties of this drug are specifically to treat severe pain and are only available with a doctor’s prescription. Please know that NSAID’s that are taken orally have a few side effects. They can cause skin irritation and might also put one at risk of stroke or a heart attack. One can also find an NSAID in the form of a gel or a cream, which is relatively safer and can be directly rubbed onto the joint.
Such drugs are primarily used for the treatment of RA. These drugs slow down or restrict the immune system, preventing it from causing any attack on the joints. Some of the conventional DMARDs include hydroxychloroquine and methotrexate. One can find some other medicines too that will help one overcome inflammation
- Response modifiers
This medication is used in combination with DMARDs that target the different protein molecules, which work toward the immune system’s response. There are a couple of different drugs available under response modifiers, such as Tumor necrosis factor inhibitors that include infliximab and etanercept.
Physical therapy might also be used. Several exercises can strengthen the muscles and improve the motion of the joints. In some instances, braces or splints might be warranted.
In case the conservative measures aren’t sufficient, the doctor might recommend surgery. It could be:
- Surgery for joint fusion
This surgery is predominantly used in smaller joints, such as the joints of the fingers, ankles, or wrists. In this, the two ends of the bones are removed, and then these ends are locked together until they heal and stand rigid as one unit.
- Surgery for the repair of joints
In case, the conservative measures do not work on one’s joints, the surfaces of the joints can be realigned or smoothed to improve functionality and reduce the pain. Such procedures are conducted arthroscopically via the small incisions in the joint.
- Surgery for replacement of joints
It helps in removing the unhealthy joint and further replacing it with a healthier artificial joint. Mostly, the knee and hips joints are replaced.
In some instances, the symptoms of arthritis might be reduced by a few lifestyle changes. These include:
- Heat and cold packs
Using ice packs and heating pads can help provide one relief from arthritis.
Exercises regularly will help keep one’s joints flexible. One can do water aerobics and swimming too to improve the flexibility of the joints.
- Weight loss
People who are obese tend to put higher stress on their joints. So, reducing weight also helps in overcoming arthritis pain or preventing any future joint injury.
- Assistive devices
The use of assistive devices like raised toilet seats, canes, walkers, shoe inserts, and other tools can help protect the joints and improve one’s overall performance ability.
Some of the prevention measures for developing arthritis include:
- Eating the right food
- Controlling weight
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding injury
- Protecting one’s joints
Diet and arthritis
Certain dietary changes can help one avoid arthritis or reduce the triggers of arthritis.
- Food to eat
One must add oils in one’s diets, such as regular cooking oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, or extra virgin olive oil. These can help one get rid of inflammation. Sunflower and avocado oils also help in lowering cholesterol levels.
Items such as yogurt, milk, and cheese are rich in Vitamin D that strengthen the bones. Dairy is also useful in protein that helps in muscle building.
- Green leafy vegetables
Green veggies are a good source of Vitamin D. They also have antioxidants and stress-fighting phytochemicals that boost immunity. Vitamin D also aids in calcium absorption. So, one can add leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, spinach, collard greens, and chard in one’s diet.
Nuts are a good source of zinc, Vitamin E, fiber, calcium, and magnesium. They are also a good source of alpha-linolenic acid that boosts immunity.
Garlic helps in protecting the cartilage.
- Green tea
Green tea is a good source of polyphenols that slows down cartilage damage and reduces inflammation.
- Food to avoid
- Processed food
- Omega-6 fatty acid-containing foods
- Sugar or sugar alternatives
- Red meat or fried food
- Refined carbohydrates
- Cheese and high-fat dairy