What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a joint disorder that stems from inflammation. It usually happens when two joints grate up against each other after the protective cartilage (a liquidy substance that prevents bones from touching) has worn away, but arthritis can also be caused from an autoimmune response.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are over 100 diagnosed forms of arthritis. It can develop because of wear and tear to cartilage, like osteoarthritis, or, it can be associated with inflammation resulting from immune system disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis.
Causes of arthritis
There are several reasons a person can develop arthritis. These include:
- Injury to a joint
- Metabolic problems like gout
- Hereditary factors (especially if a blood relative has it)
Many of the other reasons arthritis develops are still unclear.
Symptoms of arthritis
People who suffer from arthritis can experience dozens of painful symptoms, including inflammation and redness at the site of a joint, joint stiffness, swelling and tenderness.
Serious cases of arthritis can lead to even more complicated symptoms, including fever, gland swelling, weight loss, fatigue, and problems with the lungs, heart or kidneys.
Who is at risk for arthritis?
Almost anyone can be affected by arthritis. Approximately 350 million people suffer from the condition worldwide, including 40 million Americans. More than half of those with arthritis are under the age of 65 and nearly 60 percent are women.
How do you know if you have arthritis? The first step in diagnosing the disease is to know the symptoms (see above). If you start noticing recurrent joint pain or inflammation see your doctor immediately. From there, your doctor will likely ask for blood samples and order x-rays of your affected joints. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor will send you to a rheumatologist, a doctor with special training in arthritis and related diseases. From there, you'll be prescribed a treatment plan appropriate for your condition.
Treatments for arthritis
Treatment largely depends on the type of arthritis you are diagnosed with. Common treatments include:
- Physical therapy
- Splinting (where your joints are immobilized for a period of time to reduce swelling)
- Ice therapy (where you are asked to ice the joints regularly)
- Anti-inflammation medication
Tips to prevent arthritis
There are several things you can do decrease your chances of developing arthritis. Here are just a few:
1. Get regular activity. Not only is exercise good for your heart and cardiovascular system, it's also good for your bones, muscles and joints.
2. Stretch. Stretching will increase muscle tone and can help boost the range of motion of your joints. Just make sure you warm up your muscles and joints before stretching – stretching before warming up can further aggravate joint pain and even strain your muscles.
3. Eat right. Your bones need a number of nutrients to stay strong and healthy. By eating foods rich in vitamin C and E and calcium, you'll help build a musculoskeletal system that can outlast degenerative conditions. (Nutritional tips for strong bones and joints)
4. Drink enough water. Water makes up 70 percent of the cartilage in joints and helps keep them lubricated so bones don't rub up against each other. Be sure to get eight cups a day.
For more information on arthritis and how to manage the disease visit: Arthritis.org.
More on arthritis
Reduce your arthritis pain
Arthritis sufferers have many reasons to exercise
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and treatments