Arthritis is a disorder affecting the joints in the human body. Such disorder may occur suddenly or over a period of time. Arthritis is generally considered as swelling, inflammation or pain in the joint. Even though hundreds of rheumatic diseases(1) are found which not only affect the joints but also the tissues surrounding the joints, only some types of arthritis are known to affect a vast majority of people.
It is one of the common disorders and can affect anyone form children to older people. There are many type of arthritis, may be close to 100 types, where the severity differs from one to another. It affects men and woman equally. If identified in earlier stages, it can be prevented from getting worse. There are no treatments’ that can reverse the effects of arthritis or there is no cure for arthritis.
Causes of arthritis
There are many causes which can lead to arthritis of many types. Few of them are listed below.
- Arthritis may have developed either due to wear and tear of the joints as in the case of osteoarthritis(2).
- Due to an overactive immune system, like, in the cases of rheumatic arthritis, gout or lupus.
- Any physical injury or accident
- Abnormalities of the metabolism as in the case of gout
- Bacterial infections both direct and indirect as in the case of rheumatoid arthritis
- Poor diet
- Genetic factors
- No physical activity
- Poor body posture
- Over-weight or obesity that can increase pressure and stress on the knee joints
A person might be affected by arthritis because of any of the above mentioned causes, sometimes all of the above.
Symptoms of arthritis
Symptoms of arthritis are pain, inflammation, swelling, gland swelling (swollen lymph nodes) redness and stiffness of the joints difficulties in moving the joints freely. Inflammation alone may be noticed in some cases without any pain. When the small joints like the fingers are affected, it is likely that there is extra bone growth or loss of grip in the hand. Persons affected may find it difficult to hold on to objects. But when arthritis affect the larger joints like the knees, there is loss of cartilage causing damage to the knees and movement of the knees are restricted.
Symptoms of arthritis like knobby fingers are visible but most of the symptoms affecting the joints can be seen only through x-rays.
As basically arthritis is a rheumatic disease it also affects other parts or organs of the body due to which the person affected may experience fatigue, fever, weight loss and swelling. Abnormalities may also occur in some of the organs like lungs, kidneys or heart.
Though there is no complete cure for arthritis, it is important to take necessary treatment and precaution, so that the condition does not get severe.
Types of Arthritis
Though there are many types of arthritis, it is generally categorized into the below mentioned types. These are also the commonly diagnosed ones among humans.
This is the most common type of arthritis which generally affects elderly people who are above fifty years of age. But the disease is not age specific. It is a disease affecting the joints due to degeneration. Generally the fingers, knees and hip are affected by osteoarthritis. Women are the most affected by this disease when compared to men.
It is also called the type of arthritis that happens because of wear and tear. It might also affect a person who is obese or over-weight. The increased weight adds pressure and stress on the joints. This type of arthritis usually affects the cushiony material that is present on the end of the bones. One it is affected, it becomes painful every time you walk or sometimes even when you do nothing. You might feel that you have lost the shock absorber inside your body.
The symptoms usually found are
- Pain while walking
- Stiffness in the joints when you stay idle
- Joint aches
- Deep pain while climbing stairs
- Pain while gripping or holding things
- Swollen joints
- Redness in the affected area
- Increased temperature in the affected area
This type of arthritis affects the hands and feet. Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease which affects many joints other than hands and feet. People who are affected with this type of arthritis are prone to get lumps on their skin. The lumps caused by this type is called rheumatoid nodules. These nodules can be found near the joints that suffer high pressure.
This type usually occurs when your immune system gets confused, which is usually caused by bacterial or viral infections (3). The immune system considers your own body cells in the joint as bad ones, which leads to the damage. The symptoms may suddenly pop up rather than a gradual increase. The pain experienced because of rheumatoid arthritis is slightly higher than osteoarthritis.
The symptoms observed may be all or few of the below mentioned.
- Pain in joints
- Swelling and stiffness in the joints
- Morning stiffness
- Swelling in many joints, like knuckles on your hands
- Also affects the jaws, ankles, neck, wrists, shoulders and elbows.
This is a type of arthritis that affects the skin and joints. It usually has swelling on the skin along with itching. It also leads to inflammation on the joints. Psoriasis is a skin disease that affects the skin. It causes itchiness, redness, swelling and white scaly skin on the affected areas. It can affect the tips of the skin in the elbow, hands, feet and even the scalp sometimes.
People who usually have psoriasis, might also end up getting affected by psoriatic arthritis. This usually affects people above age 30 or sometimes from childhood. It affects both men and woman. Sometimes, this type of psoriasis is said to affect the spine.
- Skin disease psoriasis(4)
- Swelling in fingers and toes
- Discolored nails
- Redness on the skin
- Scaly skin patches
- Itchiness on the skin
- Swelling in only one of the joints or sometimes many
It is a metabolic disorder which causes this type of arthritis. Due to accumulation of sodium urate in and around the joints, it causes pain. Uric acid is produced by breaking down the purines in the human cells and in the food consumed. When excess uric acid is produced, it forms needle like crystals around the joints and cause acute pain. It usually affects the toes, especially the big toe.
When you wake up after a night’s sleep, you might feel acute pain in the big toe. Excessive alcohol consumption, drugs and medications might also cause gout arthritis. Once it sets in, it can last up to 10 days. It might go off and not have another attack for many years. If not treated, the frequency of the attacks increases.
- Sudden acute pain on the big toe
- Limits movement
This is also a type of autoimmune disorder which causes inflammation in the joints. The inflammation when left untreated, it leads to severe and acute pain in the joints. Though there is no specific reason as to why the immunity system attacks the joint and tissue around the bone, the inflammation is severe in many cases.
- Acute pain in big toe or ankle or heels
- Redness and warmth in the affected joints
Some other types of arthritis are also known but are rarely seen. The common symptoms noticed in all types of arthritis is the pain in the joints and inflammation.
Arthritis is diagnosed by conducting appropriate tests of the blood, urine, joint fluids, bone scan, thyroid tests and x-ray. Based on particular type of arthritis and the symptoms experienced by each individual, the number of tests might differ.
Osteoarthritis is diagnosed initially by
- Examining the swellings in the joints
- By observing the cracking or grating sound called crepitation while making joint movements
- Restricted motion of the joints
- Tenderness felt on pressing the joints
- Pain experienced by simple movements of the joints.
All other rheumatoid arthritis can be diagnosed only by conducting relevant laboratory tests based on symptoms. While an x-ray can reveal the damage or injury to the bones and joints, other tests are necessary to arrive at other metabolic disorders causing rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is treated both by physical or non-pharmacologic therapies and medications. Initial stages are treated by providing relevant occupational or physical therapy, joints and splints assistance, reduction of body weight by reducing calories intake. Medicines may be administered both to reduce pain and to address the metabolic disorders. However in unmanageable cases joint surgery or replacement surgery are also undertaken.
Using warm water or ice bags are helpful in alleviating the pain. Using a walker can also reduce the stress on the joints and the pain.
Staying physically active, maintaining the appropriate body weight and avoiding unnecessary stress to the joints are important to get rid of arthritis. People affected by arthritis must select relevant joint friendly exercises and ensure against enthusiastic over stressing of the joints. Aggressive workouts may aggravate the problem rather than providing the needed remedy.
Since arthritis is due to wear and tear and metabolic disorders, over a period of time there is no cure for it. All attempts at treating arthritis are only pain management techniques and preventing escalation of the problem by reducing the symptoms.
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