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What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition in which the joints become inflamed. It can affect a single joint or several joints. There are over 100 different types of arthritis, each with its own set of causes and treatments. Osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are two of the most common types of arthritis (RA).

Arthritis symptoms usually appear gradually over time, but they can also appear suddenly. Arthritis is most common in people over 65, but it can also affect children, teenagers, and younger adults. Women and overweight people are more likely to develop arthritis than men.

What are the symptoms of arthritis?

The most common symptoms of arthritis are joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. Your range of motion may also be limited, and the skin around the joint may become red. Many arthritis sufferers notice that their symptoms are exacerbated in the morning.

Due to the inflammation caused by the immune system’s activity, you may feel tired or lose appetite if you have RA. You could also become anemic, which means your red blood cell count drops, or develop a mild fever. If left untreated, severe RA can lead to joint deformity. 

What causes arthritis?

In your joints, cartilage is a firm but flexible connective tissue. It protects your joints by absorbing the pressure and shock that comes with moving and stressing them. Arthritis is caused by a decrease in the normal amount of cartilage tissue.

One of the most common types of arthritis is OA, which is caused by normal wear and tear. A joint infection or injury can hasten the natural breakdown of cartilage tissue. If you have a family history of OA, your chances of developing it are higher.

The autoimmune disorder RA is another common form of arthritis. It happens when your immune system attacks your body’s tissues. The synovium, a soft tissue in your joints that produces a fluid that nourishes the cartilage and lubricates the joints, is affected by these attacks.

RA is a synovial disease that infiltrates and destroys joints. It can eventually cause both bone and cartilage inside the joint to be destroyed.

It’s unclear what causes the immune system’s attacks. However, scientists have discovered genetic markers that fivefold increase your chances of developing RA.

How is arthritis diagnosed?

If you’re not sure who to see for an arthritis diagnosis, start with your primary care physician. They’ll do a physical exam to see if there’s any fluid around the joints, if the joints are warm or red, and if the joints have a limited range of motion. If necessary, your doctor can refer you to a specialist.

If you’re having severe symptoms, you might want to see a rheumatologist first. This could result in a quicker diagnosis and treatment.

Your doctor can determine what type of arthritis you have by extracting and analyzing inflammation levels in your blood and joint fluids. Anti-CCP (anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide), RF (rheumatoid factor), and ANA (antinuclear antibody) blood tests are also common diagnostic tests.

Imaging scans such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans are commonly used by doctors to create images of your bones and cartilage. This allows them to rule out other possibilities for your symptoms, such as bone spurs.

Learn about the science behind RA, how to avoid flare-ups, the latest treatments, and personal stories from others who have been through it.

How is arthritis treated?

The primary goal of treatment is to alleviate your pain and prevent further joint damage. In terms of pain management, you’ll discover what works best for you. Heating pads and ice packs are used by some people to relieve pain. Others use mobility aids such as canes or walkers to relieve pressure on their painful joints.

It’s also critical to improve your joint function. To achieve the best results, your doctor may prescribe a combination of treatment options. 

Medication

Arthritis is treated with a variety of medications, including:

  • Analgesics like hydrocodone (Vicodin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are good for pain relief but not for reducing inflammation.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) and salicylates, help to control pain and inflammation. Because salicylates can thin the blood, they should be used with caution when combined with other blood thinners.
  • Creams containing menthol or capsaicin inhibit the transmission of pain signals from your joints.
  • Immunosuppressants such as prednisone and cortisol aid in the reduction of inflammation.

Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids or disease-modifying antirheumatic medications (DMARDs) to suppress your immune system if you have RA. There are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription drugs available to treat OA. 

Surgery

You may need surgery to replace your joint with an artificial one. Hips and knees are the most usual replacements for this type of surgery.

Your doctor may recommend a joint fusion if your arthritis is particularly severe in your fingers or wrists. The ends of your bones are cemented together in this operation until they heal and become one.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy, which entails exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the affected joint, is an important part of arthritis treatment.

What lifestyle changes can people with arthritis benefit from?

Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk of developing OA and can help you manage your symptoms if you already have it.

It is critical to follow a healthy diet when trying to lose weight. Inflammation can be reduced by eating a diet rich in antioxidants, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Fish and nuts are two other foods that help to reduce inflammation.

Fried foods, processed foods, dairy products, and high meat intakes are foods to limit or avoid if you have arthritis.

Gluten antibodies may also be present in people with RA, according to some research. A gluten-free diet may help to alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. A gluten-free diet is also recommended for all people diagnosed with undifferentiated connective tissue disease, according to a 2015 study.

Your joints will remain flexible if you exercise regularly. Swimming is a good form of exercise for people with arthritis because it does not put as much strain on the joints as running or walking does. It’s important to stay active, but you should also take breaks when needed and avoid overexerting yourself.

You can try the following exercises at home:

  • Neck pain can be relieved by head tilting, neck rotation, and other exercises.
  • To relieve pain in your hands, do finger and thumb bends.
  • Leg raises, hamstring stretches, and other simple knee arthritis exercises

What is the long-term outlook for people with arthritis?

While arthritis has no cure, the right treatment can significantly reduce your symptoms.

You can manage your arthritis by making several lifestyle changes in addition to the treatments your doctor recommends.