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Living with Arthritis 
 
by Jean Bailey Robor August 11, 2005

Arthritis is a painful disease that takes on several forms. Living as comfortably with it as you can is key to maintaining an enjoyable lifestyle. There are several different types of arthritis. First, let’s define each one and then learn to live with them.

Osteoarthritis

This form of arthritis can be caused by congenital defects, trauma, metabolic disorders, or wear and tear on a joint. “Osteo” means “bone,” and “arthritis” means “inflammation.” Osteoarthritis is the progressive breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage is necessary to protect and cushion joints. Once the cartilage is broken down, the bones begin to rub against each other causing damage to the bones and the underlying tissue. A person affected by osteoarthritis will feel more pain throughout the day as the joints are used more often. Their joints will appear larger and will feel stiff and painful. The most common joints for this disease to strike are the hips and knees, although any joint may be affected. Osteoarthritis is limited to the joints. Given enough time, osteoarthritis can become crippling. Obesity and osteoporosis (bone loss) may aggravate the disease. Changes in the weather can affect the severity of the symptoms of the disease.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis:

  • Limited joint movement
  • Joint pain, usually associated with activity, sometimes accompanied by “creaking”
  • Pain in the spine
  • Stiffness, lasting less than thirty minutes
  • Joint tenderness
  • Occasional swelling, caused by fluid around the joint
  • Joint deformity, in advanced stages
  • Grinding sensation with joint movement

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis:

Your physician will diagnose the disease on the basis of your history, joint pain, restricted movement, and x-rays of the joint. Early treatment can arrest or improve the disease. There is no cure.

Treatment of Osteoarthritis:

Treatment may include medications to control inflammation and pain, exercise to keep joints mobile, and heat and cold therapy. Your physician will base your treatment on how severe the disease is, how much your symptoms affect your daily life, and the amount of joint damage you have suffered. The goal of treatment is to ultimately manage the disease by reducing symptoms and maintaining joint functions.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It usually affects the wrist, hand, elbow, shoulder, knee, and ankle joints. Usually the joints on both sides of the body are affected. Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. Pain occurs because of inflammation of the joint’s membrane lining. When you have RA, your immune system is producing too much of a protein called TNF-alpha. In moderate to severe cases, your physician may prescribe a medication that blocks production of TNF-alpha. Not only does pain and stiffness occur, but loss of movement can occur as well. Rheumatoid arthritis is not limited to the joints, but can also affect the body’s organs as well. With the progression of time, rheumatoid arthritis, like osteoarthritis, can become crippling. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown although genetic factors may be a reason.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Difficulty moving
  • Joint Pain
  • Joint Swelling
  • Joint Stiffness
  • You may also, but not necessarily experience fatigue, fever, or a decrease in appetite.

Diagnosing Rheumatoid arthritis:

Your physician may conduct a lab test to search for an antibody termed “rheumatoid factor” that is found in 80% of people diagnosed with RA. Also, in your physical examination, he will examine any swollen or tender joints. If you are diagnosed with RA, you should begin treatment immediately, under the care of your physician. Early treatment can prevent further joint damage.

Treatment of Rheumatoid arthritis:

Your physician may prescribe medications to slow or prevent joint destruction. These medications are called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. He may also prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers. Corticosteroid injections are sometimes used to ease flare ups of the disease. The goal of treatment is to retard the joint damage, reduce joint pain, and help you maintain your lifestyle by staving off permanent disability.

Arthritis at Home

Talk to your doctor about creating an exercise program you can follow. Exercise can help you maintain and gain muscle strength. You may have noticed that stress aggravates your arthritis. Chill out by listening to soothing music, going for a short walk, or taking deep breaths. Find a hobby that is enjoyable. Maybe your way of relaxing is reading or journaling. Whatever lowers your stress level is what’s right for you. Stretching, strengthening, and conditioning exercises may help to reduce pain and improve joint function. Swimming is an excellent exercise if you have problems with joints in your lower extremities. For other joint problems, bicycling and walking are good conditioning exercises.

Arthritis at Work

Have you ever felt you were too much in pain to perform your duties at work due to your arthritis? If so, you are not alone. Many people all over the country face that situation everyday. Some miss work because of it. Only you know the activities that aggravate your arthritis. Pay attention and make note of them. It’s possible that you can make simple adjustments to alleviate your arthritis pain at work. Maybe you can rearrange your work space to prevent as much lifting and reaching. It never hurts to take short breaks throughout the day to simply stretch out your limbs. Also, don’t hesitate to talk to your health care professional about your concerns. He may be able to give you some suggestions to help make your work space more comfortable.

Whether you suffer from arthritis or not, these simple changes can make your work day more pleasant.

Statistics

Nearly 70 million people in the United States are affected by arthritis or joint pain. More than two million are affected by rheumatoid arthritis. That’s approximately 1% of the American population. The disease is twice as common in women as in men. Usually it begins between the ages of 30 to 50, although it can develop at any time. RA sufferers have a 70% chance of developing joint damage within the first two years of the disease. Twenty million people in the United States are managing osteoarthritis at any given time. Eleven percent are in nursing homes or similar institutions. Osteoarthritis usually begins in people when they are in their late 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. It is rare that it affects anyone younger. It is more common and more severe in women.

Managing Your Arthritis Pain

It’s important to work closely with your health care professional to find out what steps are right for you. Generally, staying active and managing your pain, along with a possible change in diet are good ways of alleviating your discomfort. Your doctor may also suggest you see a physical therapist. If you have severe symptoms, be sure to get plenty of rest. Having a set time to go to bed and rise in the morning will help. Also, during the day, you may need to relax for 15 minutes at a time to keep your pain under control. Be sure to plan your day, pacing your activities so you won’t have too much to do at any one time.

Although rest is important, be sure not to rest too much. A comfortable range of motion each day will help keep your arthritis in check as much as possible. Solicit help with tasks that become too difficult, or delegate some tasks to others. You may find that using special kitchen devices or using canes or walkers will improve your mobility. Your physician may request you eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet consists of a diet low in salt, cholesterol, and saturated fats, and high in fiber and complex carbohydrates.

You’ll want to make sure you get enough vitamin D and calcium as well. Also, if you are overweight, losing weight may help alleviate your symptoms. Most of all, have regular check ups, and follow your doctor’s advice in managing your symptoms.


 

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