Arthritis is a group of diseases that cause painful, swollen and stiff joints. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions.
Arthritis is a common health problem that can affect anyone. One in six Canadians aged 15 and older live with arthritis. By 2036, this number is expected to grow to one in five. Arthritis is the number one cause of disability among women, and the third-highest cause among men. Two out of three Canadians affected by arthritis are women.
Let’s look at common types of arthritis:
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative joint disease; it affects one in 10 Canadians. Osteoarthritis causes pain, stiffness and swelling around one or more joints in the body. It usually lasts longer than two weeks and can involve any joint, but usually occurs in hands and in weight-bearing joints such as hips, knees, feet and the spine. Risk factors for osteoarthritis include genetics, aging, excess body weight, joint injuries, joint overuse (for example, through work or sports ) and physical inactivity.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of inflammatory arthritis. The body’s immune system attacks the tissues of the joints, causing redness, pain, swelling or a feeling of warmth. RA usually affects the feet, wrists, and hands, including the knuckles (an area usually not affected by osteoarthritis). RA can cause lasting damage and deformity, and the inflammation may also affect organs such as the eyes, lungs or heart. Symptoms may also include low-grade fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue. As with many other autoimmune diseases, the causes of RA are not yet known.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in various parts of the body, including the joints, skin, heart, lungs, blood, kidneys and brain. Lupus symptoms may include fatigue, fever, a butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and bridge of the nose, sun sensitivity in the skin, sores in the mouth and nose, chest pain or shortness of breath, dry mouth, hair loss, headaches and cognitive symptoms, such as memory loss or confusion.
Gout is a form of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the body. It causes joint pain, tenderness and redness, usually in the big toe, ankles, feet, knees, hands or wrists. The pain of a gout attack can be sudden and intense, and it can last a few days to a few weeks.
To diagnose arthritis, doctors conduct a physical examination to determine which joints are affected. In the case of osteoarthritis, joints will be painful if moved to extremes and may be thicker than normal. If painful joints involve both sides of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is more likely the cause, and lab tests will be done for confirmation. Blood tests detect an antibody called rheumatoid factor, which may confirm the presence of rheumatoid arthritis. Other blood tests may detect forms of arthritis such as gout or lupus. X-rays may also show bone spurs in joints.
There is no cure for arthritis, but you can take steps to help prevent some types of the disease.
- Maintaining a healthy weight limits stress on weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips. The Mayo Clinic also notes that fat tissue produces proteins that may cause inflammation in and around the joints.
- Avoiding injuries and repetitive movements over long periods of time can also help.
- If an elderly loved one experiences a joint injury, he or she will need medical care and rehabilitation to avoid further damage. Talk to a doctor about the proper use of ice, rest, heating pads, hot water bottles and hot baths for treating joint injuries.
- Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Managing arthritis symptoms
- To help manage osteoarthritis, maintain muscle tone with regular exercise. This may include exercises prescribed by your doctor or physiotherapist to strengthen muscles and improve your range of motion.
- Your doctor may recommend pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications to manage osteoarthritis pain. For severe cases, surgery such as knee or hip replacement may be needed.
- Biologic medications can help improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and slow down joint degeneration.
- To prevent gout attacks, eat a healthy diet and limit your alcohol intake, especially beer. Talk to your doctor about medications that can help.
Bayshore is pleased to provide health information to our clients and their families and caregivers. This information is not advice and should not be treated as such. For more information on arthritis, please consult your doctor.
The Arthritis Society’s Discussion Forums - Arthritis Help Line
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