What is ARTHRITIS?
Arthritis is a general term for more than 100 diseases and conditions that affect the joints of the bones. It is a degenerative bone disease. Many people with arthritis do not have any symptoms in the early stages.
Later, as it progresses, arthritis symptoms may include joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Swelling may cause the skin to look tight, smooth or shiny. The muscles surrounding the joint may be sore, too.
Some common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, gouty arthritis (a.k.a. gout), rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and fibromyalgia.
While not all of the causes of arthritis are known, several factors that may contribute to a person’s risk of developing the condition have been identified, including…
Heredity: A person’s family history may determine the shape of the bones or whether there is weak cartilage in the joints.
Weight: Being overweight puts extra stress on joints, especially the hips and knees.
Age: Arthritis can occur in people of all ages, including children, but it affects a large number of seniors.
Injury and/or disease: Joints may be injured when doing the same activity repeatedly, such as sports injuries. In addition, breaking a bone and/or having surgery on a joint can increase the risk of developing arthritis in a joint, for example, breaking a wrist or forearm bone near the wrist could lead to arthritis in the wrist later on in life, earlier than otherwise might have occurred. Infections in the joint may also cause harm.
Lack of physical activity: Activity is important in strengthening the muscles that support the bones, for helping joints move, and controlling body weight.
Stress: Arthritis pain may flare during times of emotional stress.
What is OSTEOARTHRITIS?
Osteoarthritis or OA, is a chronic “non-inflammatory” arthritis affecting the joints of the bones, particularly the hips, spine, knees, feet and fingers. It is typically caused by mechanics of the joint.
Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage wears down and thins exposing the ends of the bones. Small bumps (spurs) of new bone may form decreasing the space in the joint and limiting its movement. Bits of cartilage can break off causing pain and inflammation. Eventually, the cartilage can wear away completely leaving the bone ends to grind together.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis include painful, stiff or mildly swollen joints, developing slowly over time. Pain is often worse in rainy weather and after exercise.
Treatment of osteoarthritis includes pain medication but there is no cure. Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen are often used to treat arthritis pain. Cortisone injections into the joint can reduce inflammation and arthritis pain but are not a cure. Many natural remedies are available which may help with the symptoms of arthritis. Be sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking supplements. Ice or cold packs are useful to reduce swollen joints and help with arthritis pain due to swelling. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended to replace a damaged joint.
If you are suffering with arthritis, look for ways to make your life easier around the house. For example, if you have arthritic hands, try using an electric can opener instead of fighting with a manual can opener, purchase easy to open containers, consider adding a large zipper pull to your jacket. There are many products on the market designed to help in this way. A splint that protects your hand(s) may be helpful during times of painful flare-ups. Some patients wear a split during the day, others find it more helpful at night.
What is GOUTY ARTHRITIS also known as GOUT?
Gout or gouty arthritis involves repeated attacks of acute inflammatory arthritis primarily of the big toe. Specifically it is the metatarsal-phalangeal joint at the base of big toe that is primarily affected. Other joints that can be affected include the heels, knees, wrist, fingers and elbows.
Symptoms of gout include severe pain in the affected joint and may include swelling and redness. The most common presentation is big toe pain, that wakes you up in the night, and lasts 2-3 hours. Gout is most commonly found in men over the age of 30, and is seldomly found in women and children.
Gout is not a new disease, in fact, it has been documented for thousands of years. Historically, gout was referred to as the “rich man’s disease”. It was linked to diets that only the rich could afford — high in alcohol and meat.
The true cause of gout is an excess of uric acid in the body, called hyperuricemia. Uric acid crystals, called Tophi, are formed in the body and these settle into joints such as the big toe. If you could picture a miniscule snowflake constructed out of daggers, this would describe what is settling into the joint during an acute attack of gout and why it is so extremely painful.
Hyperuricemia causes gout, and hyperuricemia can be caused by:
• An inadequate ability to excrete the uric acid from the body
Treatment of gout is initially focussed on pain management. For pain, icing the affected area for 20 minutes at a time, several times per day is recommended. Also, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen will ease the pain.
In addition to pain management, there are a variety of drugs your doctor may prescribe to help with the underlying cause of the gout. If you have hyperuricemia, s/he will prescribe medication to help your body properly manage uric acid levels.
It is easy to see why gout used to be referred to as the “rich man’s disease” when you look at the list of foods that are high in purines. Avoid eating these foods if you are suffering with gout:
• Organ meats, such as liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, and brains
• Red meat such as beef, pork (including bacon), lamb and wild game
• Anchovies, sardines, herring, mackerel, scallops, lobster, shrimp and tuna
• Alcohol, but especially beer
• Asparagus and mushrooms
What is RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an auto-immune disease, meaning the body’s own defense system is attacking itself. RA mostly affects the wrist, fingers, knees, ankles and feet, but can also affect the skin, blood vessels, heart and lungs. The immune system attacks the joint lining of otherwise healthy joints (for reasons we don’t yet know) causing painful inflammation of the joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms often begin with flu-like symptoms, fatigue and fever. Joints become stiff, painful and swollen as time passes. Pain is worst in the morning after inactivity.
Rheumatoid arthritis treatment includes medication, exercise, physiotherapy, and possibly surgery. The joint swelling is treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and oral corticosteroids or cortisone injections into the joint. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are powerful drugs that can prevent further damage by suppressing the immune system, so that it won’t attack itself. However, this makes it harder to fight off infection.
If you think that you may be showing signs of rheumatoid arthritis, there are two very important things you should know:
1. See your doctor, get diagnosed and start treatment right away. Early treatment of RA can prevent a lot of irreversible joint damage and disability. RA may be difficult to face, but if you think you may have it, don’t delay in taking action.
2. In most cases, rest is not what is best for painful joints. In fact, it’s more of a move it or lose it situation. The muscles around the joint need to be exercised to stay strong. Unless you are in a major state of flare-up, keep those joints moving.
What is PSORIATIC ARTHRITIS?
Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is an inflammatory arthritis associated with the skin condition psoriasis. Psoriasis causes a red, thick, scaly rash with silver-white patches.
Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis can appear about 10 years after the onset of psoriasis and includes: joint pain and swelling, tenderness where muscles or ligaments attach to bones, especially in the foot, nail changes, morning stiffness, general fatigue, eye redness.
There are 5 kinds of psoriatic arthritis, and treatment differs depending on which type is presenting:
Symmetric psoriatic arthritis (this resembles rheumatoid arthritis)
Asymmetric psoriatic arthritis (involves one to three joints in the body)
Distal interphalangeal predominant (DIP) psoriatic arthritis (this involves the small joints in the fingers and toes furthest from the torso, and can resemble osteoarthritis)
Spondylitis (affects the spinal column and ligaments)
Arthritis mutilans (a rare, but severe, deforming form of psoriatic arthritis affecting fingers and toes)