Many think that arthritis is: a disease of old people, is triggered by certain weather conditions, is a nuisance feeling of pain and discomfort, can be cured, and is caused by bad diet. The truth is there are more than 100 types of arthritis. The false notion that all arthritis is alike has led people to try treatments inappropriate for their conditions.
The common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis or the “wear and tear” arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis which is an inflammatory type of condition that occurs when the body’s immune system does not work properly and gout, which is caused by crystals that collects in the joints. There is also a very common condition that does not involve a true joint but the anatomical structures around it namely, the ligaments, tendons and the muscle and this is what we call soft tissue rheumatism and it usually affects the shoulders, soles of the foot and the fingers. Most people particularly aged 50 and above will develop some form of arthritis, usually in the knee, in their lifetime. And, a person who chronically suffers with this condition should not take it lightly as it is the leading cause of disability.
Researchers don’t know the exact cause of arthritis, but they do know what puts people at risk. They conclude that risk factors include having abnormal alignment of the joints, injuries from sports and athletics, changing forces (putting weight on one knee or hip and being overweight/obese), gender, heavy and overuse joint injury, lack of exercise (weak muscles giving no support to aging joints). For the more serious type of arthritis, a link between genetic factors and long standing exposure to several environmental determinants has been suggested.
While age can be a risk factor, children and teenagers can develop certain forms of arthritis such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis and spondyloarthropathies. Osteoarthritis, the most common among all arthritides can coexist with the other rheumatic diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system attacks parts of the body. For reasons that aren’t clear, the joints are the main areas affected by this malfunction in the immune system. Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to severe joint damage and deformities. Early recognition and treatment of the type of arthritis is thus vital to preserve the quality of life.
As there is a myriad type of arthritis, adequate clinical history and physical examination by a specialist along with appropriate diagnostic tests help formulate an accurate diagnosis. The downside to arthritis is that aside from infection related arthritis, it has no known cure, which means, the patient cannot completely eliminate it. However, there are different approaches to remedy the condition such as delaying its progression or easing the pain and discomfort that it manifests. Pharmacologic treatment, physical therapy, weight loss program, lifestyle modification, intra articular steroids, viscosupplementation, biologic therapies or surgical intervention are among the many options that both the doctor and the patient can choose from.
The important thing to remember is that, old or young, one must lead a safe and healthy life to avoid arthritis or be on guard at the foremost signs and symptoms of the disease so that the condition can be contained in its most minimal stage and that the quality of life of people can be preserved.
About the Author
Evan Silverio Vista, MD is a clinician and researcher in the Department of Rheumatology at St. Luke’s Medical Center-Department of Medicine, Manila, Philippines. He is also a member of the fellowship training committee and hospital staff at University of Santo Tomas Hospital Department of Rheumatology, Clinical Immunology and Osteoporosis. He was an associate research scientist at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Department of Arthritis and Clinical Immunology and an Ad Hoc Reviewer for the British Medical Journal Case Reports and International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases. He is currently a member of the American College of Rheumatology, Asia-Pacific League of Associations for Rheumatology, Special Interest Group for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and of the Clinical Immunology Society.
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