8 Important Questions about Arthritis and Their Answers
Isn’t arthritis just achy joints?
Essentially, yes. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons defines arthritis as "inflammation of a joint"—the place where two bones connect. Arthritis can have more than 100 different types, but osteoarthritis, is the most common form, affecting nearly 27 million Americans, almost 60% of whom are women. In osteoarthritis, the slippery tissue, called cartilage, that protects the ends of your bones in the joint—gradually wears down. This causes your knees to be achier than usual after you work out. You could also feel stiff and old lady-ish when you climb out of bed. The cause of this cartilage breakdown is not known, but a combination of factors like ageing, joint injuries, genetic tendencies, and obesity, is thought to result into it, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Wait, what's rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the other most common type of arthritis. It also results into the same stiff, achy joints, but RA is an autoimmune disease. The body's immune system attacks its own joints, causing their lining to swell and hurt. It is almost 3 times more likely to strike women than men, and it tends to first occur between ages 25 and 50. Regular arthritis tends to most affect weight-bearing joints, such as the knees and hips; whereas rheumatoid arthritis more often impacts the entire body: both large and small joints as well as other organs.
Could I really have arthritis at 40?
Arthritis brings the thought of stiff, sore seniors doing water aerobics, but the truth is, nearly 60% of people diagnosed are under age 65. Arthritis typically affects people over 40, but it can happen sooner, especially in people with joint injury. Obese people are more prone to arthritis of the knees because of the increased stress on the joints. Genes again play a role: Middle-aged and older women with a family history of arthritis have a particularly high risk. But although age is a risk factor, arthritis doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of getting older.
What are the symptoms that I should look for?
The initial stages of arthritis may not show any symptoms because mild cartilage damage typically has no symptoms. Hands and weight-bearing joints, including the knees, hips, spine, lower back, neck, and end joints of the fingers are the most common body parts that indicate arthritis. But that happens only after there is significant cartilage loss and will cause you real pain and loss of joint function. If you have swelling, stiffness, or pain in your joints for more than 2 weeks, it’s time to visit your doctor.
How will the doctor diagnose arthritis?
A physical examination of your joints, questions about family history, past joint injuries, and any symptoms you've experienced, will all help your doctor to detect arthritis. He will also take into account if you're obese or physically inactive. There aren't any tests to definitively diagnose arthritis. Your doctor may order a blood or urine test to rule out other forms, like rheumatoid; he may also order an x-ray of the affected joint.
How important is exercise?
Exercise is pretty much mandatory: It will help you to feel less pain, take fewer medications, improve your flexibility, get stronger, and avoid joint replacement surgery. Medications may soothe arthritis pain, but they don’t to increase your strength and, therefore, your function. Exercise does. Most types of moderate, low-impact exercise are helpful, but experts especially recommend strength-training, stretching, and water workouts. In one Tufts University study, arthritis patients who started strength-training reported a 43% dip in pain compared with only a 12% drop in non-strength trainers. Stronger muscles around your joints take great pressure off those joints. You could also try yoga, which also is an excellent form of relaxation.
What precautions should I take before I exercise?
Usually, if a person has some kind of pain, they stop doing what they are doing immediately. But that’s not always the best advice given to arthritis patients. If you have arthritis, exercise—even walking—usually hurts, and the pain is often worse after you've finished. But research shows that pain eases within a few hours, is not harmful, and decreases over time. To make exercise easier on your body, follow these tips: (1) Take an OTC pain reliever 30 minutes before you start exercising. (2) Warm up. (3) Stop if you experience sharp, shooting, or stabbing pain; if the pain gets worse over time. (4) Ice your bad joints for about 20 minutes if you experience an increase in pain or swelling.
Can arthritis be prevented?
Yes, and because there's no cure, prevention is your best bet. The three big things you can do are 1) work out regularly and stay active; 2) maintain a healthy weight; and 3) prevent injuries to your joints. Slimming down can also help if you already suffer from arthritis, and you don't have to lose a lot to make a difference. When you walk, your knees absorb a force equal to about 3 times your body weight. So losing just 10 pounds actually relieves each knee of about a 30-pound load with every stride you take.
What medicines typically help?
Over-the-counter pain relievers or NSAIDs, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, are the first things doctors recommend. Even though both are over the counter, they're not without side effects: Acetaminophen can cause liver damage in high doses, and NSAIDs can irritate your stomach. For more serious arthritis pain, your doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers like codeine or recommend cortisone shots to relieve pain directly in your joint. Procedures like viscosupplementation (injecting hyaluronic acid, which is similar to fluids found naturally in your knee joint) and joint replacement and other surgeries are usually considered only after meds and lifestyle changes have failed to make you feel better.
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