Arthritis at a Glance

ArthritisArthritis affects men, women and children – regardless of age, background or culture. It is a far reaching, painful illness that most people will deal with (either by themselves, or through a loved one) in their lifetimes.

Arthritis literally means “joint inflammation,” but this word covers over one-hundred diseases that attack not only the joints, but muscles, ligaments, bones and tendons with pain, stiffness and swelling. Common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The most common form of arthritis is the common joint degenerative disease known as osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis affects over twenty million people in the United States. In this form, the cartilage is affected – this is the padding between joints that cushions the bones. When one has osteoarthritis, the outer layer of cartilage breaks down, causing the bones to lose their cushion and rub against one another. This results in loss of motion for that joint, pain, swelling and stiffness. Bone spurs can grown on the joint edges, which then causes pieces of these spurs to break off and float into the joint itself, causing more damage and a great deal more pain. This form of arthritis only affects the joints.

The second most common form of arthritis is known as rheumatoid arthritis – over two million Americans are afflicted by this disease. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid affects more than the joints – it can affect the skin, eyes, heart, blood, nerves and more. Rheumatoid arthritis is – in its simplest form – an inflammation. It’s characterized by symmetry – meaning that if one knee is affected, the other one will be as well. This makes this form of arthritis easier to detect and diagnose. Joint pain and swelling, as well as stiffness after inactivity, or after a period of sleep and fatigue are also hallmarks. Most people who have rheumatoid arthritis have what is known as the rheumatoid factor, though this is sometimes not helpful when diagnosing the disease. Other diseases can cause the rheumatoid factor, and the factor can be present in those who do not have rheumatoid arthritis.

The joint pain, inflammation and stiffness usually develop over time (And can sometime go into remission), but rheumatoid usually affects each person who has the disease differently. Rheumatoid arthritis affects women two to three times more often than men, but men get the disease in a more severe capacity. It usually develops in middle age, but it is not uncommon for the elderly or young children to develop the disease as well.

Rheumatoid arthritis is usually triggered by the immune system, though there is some debate as to why. The immune system, during infection and other times, will cause certain parts of the body to inflame themselves as a cushion. In rheumatoid, the inflammation is caused for no reason – the body attacks its own joints.

The base of rheumatoid arthritis is chronic pain, which is a wide spread epidemic in the United States – most often caused by arthritis. Chronic pain can limit daily activity, put a hold on what one can and can not accomplish and slowly degrade quality of life. However, working side by side with a qualified health care professional will help you cope and manage your pain effectively.

If you have arthritis, a few lifestyle changes may be in order. Do you get eight to ten hours of sleep each night? Do you have a healthy diet? Have you joined a support group? These are all small steps to take, but when taken, can lead to a better quality of life than you thought possible!

There are many new medications coming on the market every month to help treat chronic pain – specifically, chronic pain caused by arthritis. Anti-inflammatory pain killers are popular for their reduction of inflammation and dulling of the pain. There are also topical creams that can be applied to reduce the pain and swelling, and Corticosteroids, like prednisone that can decrease both as well. Talk to your health professional to see which form of treatment is right for you!