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Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Suffering with arthritis?

There are many misconceptions about arthritis. Perhaps you have believed some of them yourself. Perhaps you think that arthritis exclusively affects old people. Perhaps you believe there is a cure for it.

You may even believe that a poor diet is the cause. None of these are true. It is important that the facts concerning arthritis be known, so as to avoid misunderstanding and misconceptions about what it is and what causes it. This essay will describe the causes of arthritis, the symptoms commonly associated with it and how those who suffer with it can manage it.

Arthritis is a common condition which causes joints in the body to become painful and inflamed. According to NHS research, the number of people in the UK who suffer from arthritis or similar conditions is at least ten million. Contrary to popular belief, it is not reserved solely to the older generations. A person can develop arthritis at any stage in life, even in childhood. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common forms of the condition, although there are others.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and current data indicates that it affects around nine million people in the UK. People are more likely to develop it if they are female and at least in their mid-forties. They may also be more predisposed to it if there is a family history of the condition. Injuries to joints and obesity can also increase the risk of developing arthritis.

However, anyone can develop osteoarthritis at any age following an injury or via another joint-related ailment such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis starts by attacking the smooth cartilage which forms the joint, resulting in impairments in moving, pain and stress. When the cartilage lining things and roughens, tendons and ligaments in the affected area must work harder to function.

This added stress can result in swelling and the appearance of bony spurs known as osteophytes. In instances of extreme cartilage loss, bone begins to rub against bone. This results in the shape of the joint altering and bones being forced out of their usual positions. Osteoarthritis is commonly found in joints such as those in the hands, spine, knees and hips.

Rheumatoid arthritis is less common than osteoarthritis. In the UK, it affects over four hundred thousand people and commonly starts when the patient is between forty and fifty years old. Women are around three times more likely to develop it than men. The first part of the body which is affected is commonly the outer covering, or synovium, of the joint.

The immune system attacks the affected joints, which results in pain and swelling. The arthritis then spreads across the rest of the joint, which produces additional swelling and changes to the shape of the joint. Consequently, both the bone and cartilage can break down. People who suffer with rheumatoid arthritis can develop problems with organs and tissues elsewhere in their bodies.

Although these are the most common forms of arthritis, they are by no means the only ones. Other forms include ankylosing arthritis, which mainly affects tissues, bones and ligaments in the spine, lupus, an autoimmune condition that affects a wide variety of organs and tissues, gout, which is caused by too much uric acid and causes severe pain, redness and swelling and fibromyalgia, which targets muscles, ligaments and tendons.

Someone who believes they may be developing arthritis should contact their GP if they experience symptoms such as pain, tenderness and stiffness of the joints, inflammation either in or around the joints, restricted movement in the affected area or areas, the skin over the joint becoming warm and red or weakness and wasting of the muscles.

Arthritis is not exclusive to older adults and can affect children as well. Around fifteen thousand children and young people are affected by forms of arthritis, most of which are known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). As the child grows, the symptoms often lessen, meaning that the child can live a normal adult life.

The most common JIAs are oligo-articular JIA, which can affect up to four joints, mostly in the knees, ankles and wrists and polyarticular JIA, which affects at least five joints and may either develop suddenly or gradually over time. The symptoms of this last one bear great similarity to those of rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, there is systemic onset JIA, which begins with a fever, a rash, enlarged glands and a lack of energy, followed by swelling in the joints and glands.

There is no cure for arthritis, but there are numerous ways in which the symptoms can be treated and made to slow down. For osteoarthritis, common treatments for mild symptoms include frequent exercise and weight loss if excess weight is determined to be a contributing factor. More severe symptoms will require additional treatments such as the prescription of painkillers and a detailed and structured exercise plan devised with the help of a physiotherapist.

Rheumatoid arthritis treatments include disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS) which ease the symptoms and slow the condition’s development. Biological treatments, such as etanercept and infliximab, are usually taken alongside DMARDs and administered by injection. They prevent chemicals in the body from triggering the immune system to attack affected joints. Severe rheumatoid arthritis can be treated with JAK inhibitors.

Usually taken with methotrexate, this new type of medicine is offered to people who either cannot take DMARDs or have taken them and found them to be ineffective. Various forms of other medication, such as painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids, may be prescribed to combat the pain brought on by the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritis is a lifelong condition which can emerge at any point in the patient’s life. There is no cure for it but, with the right course of treatment depending on the form of arthritis the person has, there is every chance they can life a full life with the condition.

Disclaimer

This article is for educational and informational purposes only and must not be used or taken as a substitute in any form for any medical, psychological (mental) advice, medication you are currently taking or any alternative treatments without the prior advice, guidance and consent from your medical doctor. Please speak with your doctor first before making any changes to your diet or medicine as a result of reading any information laid out on this website or in this or any other articles.

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