Arthritis: What is it and can it be prevented?
Over 50 million Americans have arthritis, making it the number one cause of disability in the country. That means 1 in every 5 adults, 300,000 children and countless families are affected.
- The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which affects an estimated 31 million Americans.
- Number of people expected to have doctor-diagnosed arthritis by the year 2040: more than 78 million.
- Almost two-thirds of adults in the U.S. with arthritis are of working age (18-64 years).
- Arthritis, and other non-traumatic joint disorders, are among the five most costly conditions among adults 18 and older.
What is arthritis?
“Arthritis” is not a single disease; it is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. People of all ages, sexes and races can and do have arthritis. It is most common among women, and occurs more frequently as people get older.
Arthritis might seem simple, but it’s really not. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions. Arthritis can start in many ways, and can be difficult to recognize. It can come on slowly and be mild, or it can start suddenly and cause intense pain that surges within a few hours. The signs and symptoms can come and go over time. It might cause the classic issues of joint pain, swelling and stiffness, or it may first cause health problems that seem unrelated, like fatigue or a rash. Early signs of arthritis might be mistaken for an injury or the result of “too much” activity.
Of course, not every joint ache or pain needs medical treatment, but there are certain signs and symptoms that could signal something more serious than expected.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. When the cartilage – the slick, cushioning surface on the ends of bones – wears away, bone rubs against bone, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. Over time, joints can lose strength and pain may become chronic. Risk factors include excess weight, family history, age and previous injury (an anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, tear, for example).
A healthy immune system is protective. It generates internal inflammation to get rid of infection and prevent disease. But the immune system can go awry, mistakenly attacking the joints with uncontrolled inflammation, potentially causing joint erosion and may damage internal organs, eyes and other parts of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are examples of inflammatory arthritis. Researchers believe that a combination of genetics and environmental factors can trigger autoimmunity. Smoking is an example of an environmental risk factor that can trigger rheumatoid arthritis in people with certain genes.
A bacterium, virus or fungus can enter the joint and trigger inflammation. Examples of organisms that can infect joints are salmonella and shigella (food poisoning or contamination), chlamydia and gonorrhea (sexually transmitted diseases) and hepatitis C (a blood-to-blood infection, often through shared needles or transfusions). In many cases, timely treatment with antibiotics may clear the joint infection, but sometimes the arthritis becomes chronic.
Uric acid is formed as the body breaks down purines, a substance found in human cells and in many foods. Some people have high levels of uric acid because they naturally produce more than is needed or the body can’t get rid of the uric acid quickly enough. In some people the uric acid builds up and forms needle-like crystals in the joint, resulting in sudden spikes of extreme joint pain, or a gout attack. Gout can come and go in episodes or, if uric acid levels aren’t reduced, it can become chronic, causing ongoing pain and disability.
Arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Sometimes unexplained fatigue and a lingering sense of illness are problems, too.
Here are a few of the most common symptoms:
- Pain, swelling, or stiffness in one or more joints
- Joints that are red or warm to the touch
- Joint tenderness or stiffness
- Difficulty moving a joint (Decreased range of motion) or doing daily activities
Be sure to make an appointment with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Joint symptoms that last three days or more
- Several episodes of joint symptoms within a month
What can you do once you have it?
When the joint symptoms of osteoarthritis are mild or moderate, they can be managed by:
- Balancing activity with rest
- Using hot and cold therapies
- Regular physical activity
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eat a healthy balanced diet
- Strengthening the muscles around the joint for added support
- Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medicine.
- Taking a Joint Support Supplement that has ingredients like Collagen or Curcumin.
- Avoiding excessive repetitive movements
- Improving Sleep
If joint symptoms are severe, causing limited mobility and affecting quality of life, some of the above management strategies may be helpful, but joint replacement may be necessary.
There are many things that can be done to preserve joint function, mobility and quality of life. Learning about the disease and treatment options, making time for physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight are essential.
Can you prevent it?
Osteoarthritis can prevented by staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding injury and repetitive movements.
With autoimmune and inflammatory types of arthritis, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is critical. Slowing disease activity can help minimize or even prevent permanent joint damage. Remission is the goal and may be achieved through the use of one or more medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve function, and prevent further joint damage.
The fact is, there is no sure way to prevent arthritis. But you can help to reduce your risk, and delay the potential onset of certain types of arthritis. If you have healthy joints right now, do all you can now to maintain mobility and function and avoid the pain and disability associated with arthritis. It is helpful to add supplements to your daily routine, as bone and joint support products can assist in building your bone strength, lubricating your joints, and acting as ananti-inflammatory. Taking a supplement daily may help you avoid joint pain all together!
In some cases, preventing a prior incident can significantly reduce the risk of arthritis. Avoiding sports injuries through proper equipment, adequate training and safe play can prevent ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears that may lead to osteoarthritis in a few years or several decades later.
Get checked out
Primary care providers are usually the first stop for joint problems. Someone who’s been searching for answers for a while may see to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating arthritis and rheumatic conditions, or an orthopaedic specialist. If you are experiencing any form of discomfort, chat with your PCP, and follow the guidelines above for tips on easing joint pain!