By DR.ARCHANA M.UPPIN
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. It can affect one joint or multiple joints. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, with different causes and treatment methods. Two of the most common types are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Arthritis is not an old age disease though most commonly seen in adults over the age of 65 years; it can also develop in children, teens, and younger adults. Arthritis is more common in women than men and in people who are obese.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Joint pain, stiffness, swelling, decreased range of motion at the joints are the most common symptoms. Many people with arthritis notice their symptoms are worse in the morning and feel better as the day progresses. Some forms of arthritis-like RA, SLE(Lupus), Scleroderma, Sjogren’s can affect multiple organs of the body like eyes, lungs, heart, gastrointestinal system and can be life-threatening.
What causes arthritis?
Normal wear and tear cause Osteoarthritis (OA), one of the most common forms of arthritis. An infection or injury to the joints can worsen this natural breakdown of cartilage tissue. Your risk of developing OA may be higher if you have a family history of the disease. Another common form of arthritis, RA, is an autoimmune disorder. It occurs when your body’s immune system attacks the tissues of the body. Researchers are still trying to find out why a person’s immune system starts attacking the healthy joints of the body. Some postulates about the causes of rheumatoid arthritis include environmental factors such as smoking, periodontitis (a dental condition), genetic and hormonal issues.
How is Arthritis Diagnosed
Symptoms of Arthritis take time to develop and the initial signs are joint ache, swelling and stiffness. Patients may also feel fatigued. Consult a Rheumatologist who, with the help of your medical history, X-rays, physical and laboratory tests will diagnose.
How is arthritis treated?
Since Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, curing it completely is still unlikely. Hence, the following approach is used by doctors to provide maximum comfort and relief to the patients: Slowing down inflammation and swelling with the help of disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, sulphasalazine are some of the options. In patients who don’t respond to the above line newer drugs called BIOLOGICS can be used. Research has shown that having tight control over rheumatoid arthritis can prevent further damage to the joints. It has also shown that the SOONER the treatment is begun after the diagnosis, the lesser the joint damage, deformities and in turn disabilities can be prevented.
Contrary to popular belief, steroids are used only for a short period, particularly for quick response and restoration of function. Most patients don’t need steroids. Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed for pain relief.
Surgery is advised to rheumatoid arthritis patients who have permanently damaged their joints and have decreased or hindered mobility.
Joint and hip replacement surgeries are commonly done, but surgery can be performed on any dysfunctional joint. It is extremely important that patients keep themselves physically active, or else immobility can set in quickly.
Daily exercises such as walking, yoga or swimming are recommended. Weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight reduce the risk of developing OA and can reduce symptoms if you already have a diet with lots of antioxidants, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs can help reduce inflammation, other inflammation-reducing foods are fish and nuts.
Minimize fried /processed foods. Lowering physical and mental stress is important.
Due to the nature of the disease and as there is no cure for the disease it is quite a challenge for patients and caregivers to lead an uninterrupted everyday life. It is a leading cause of disability in adulthood. Hence, frequent visits to the doctor, the right treatment, an active lifestyle and learning about the disease are crucial. While there’s no cure for arthritis, the right treatment can greatly reduce your symptoms and improve the quality of life.
About the Author: DR.ARCHANA M.UPPIN, MBBS MD (GEN MEDICINE) FELLOW RHEUMATOLOGY (EULAR)