Last updated date: 27-Apr-2023
Originally Written in English
Arthritis refers to joint inflammation that can develop in one or several joints in a person’s body. It can also refer to multiple medical conditions affecting the joints, surrounding tissues, and connective tissues. This disorder is mostly characterized by joint stiffness and pain that tends to get worse with age.
There are several forms of arthritis that doctors diagnose from time to time. However, each type causes varying symptoms and often requires different treatment approaches. Although arthritis is more common among older adults, it can as well occur in children, men, and women of any age bracket.
How does the Joint Function?
A joint is the part of the body where two or more joints link, including the fingers, shoulders, and knees. The role of the joints involves holding the bones together and allowing them to rotate and move freely within limits.
A solid capsule surrounds the majority of the body's joints. A thick fluid fills the capsule, which helps with the lubrication of the joint. The capsules keep the bones in position with the help of the ligaments. The ligaments resemble elastic solid bands.
Cartilage lines the ends of the bones inside a joint. This is a tough, smooth layer of tissue that enables the bones to glide with each other as you walk. Whenever you want to shift a bone, the brain sends a signal to the muscle, which pulls a tendon that connects to the bone. Muscles thus play a crucial role in support of a joint.
Types of Arthritis
Typically, arthritis is a broad term that refers to about 100 and more different conditions of the joint. The following are the most common arthritis types that affect most people;
Osteoarthritis is one of the most popular forms of arthritis. It involves wear and tear that occurs as a result of overuse of the joints. It typically develops as you get older. It can also be caused by joint injuries and obesity, which exert more strain on the joints.
The most common areas it affects are weight-bearing joints, such as the knees, spine, elbows, and feet. It usually develops for months or years and causes pain in the affected joint. However, you do not feel ill or suffer from the exhaustion that certain other forms of arthritis cause.
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition. This means that your immune system attacks the body's tissues, particularly the joints. This causes inflammation, which, if left untreated, can result in serious joint damage. Rheumatoid nodules are lumps on the skin that occur in around 1 out of every five people with rheumatoid arthritis. These lumps mostly develop over pressured joint areas, including the knuckles, heels, and elbows.
- Psoriatic arthritis
Most people with psoriatic arthritis experience inflammation on the joints (arthritis) and skin inflammation (psoriasis). Patchy, raised, white, and red patches of inflamed skin and scales are symptoms of psoriasis. The tips of the elbows and knees, the navel, the scalp, and the skin surrounding the genital areas and anus are normally affected. Approximately 10 to 30 percent of people who have psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis.
The onset of this form of arthritis is most common in people aging between 30 and 50. However, it can occur as early as childhood. It affects both men and women equally. Psoriasis, a skin condition, normally manifests first.
Gout refers to the accumulation of uric acid crystals within a joint. It's either in the big toe or a different part of the foot. After a night of taking alcohol, you always wake up with a sharp pain in the big toe. Stress medications or another disease may also trigger a gout attack.
If you fail to treat it, the attack can last three to ten days. It might take months or even years before you experience another one. On the other hand, attacks can become more regular over time and can also last longer. Gout can typically damage the joints and kidneys if left untreated for an extended period.
Gout can occur due to one of these three factors;
- An increase in uric acid production in your body.
- Your kidneys are unable to absorb the uric acid generated in the body.
- You are consuming just too many uric acid-raising foods.
Lupus is an autoimmune condition also known as SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus). It can develop in the joints or affect the organs in the body. Doctors are not sure what causes or triggers lupus, but it involves something that causes the immune system to malfunction.
Normally, the immune system fights viruses, bacteria, and other invaders in the body. However, lupus begins to cause pain and inflammation in the body. It can start from the joints to the body organs, to the brain.
Lupus is more common in women of childbearing age than in men. It is also more popular in African-American women, unlike in white women. In most cases, it manifests itself between the ages of 15 to 44.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis
The most prevalent arthritis signs and symptoms involve the joints. Based on the form of arthritis you are suffering from, you are likely to experience the following;
- Reduced range of motion
The signs and symptoms associated with childhood arthritis are;
- Stiffness of the joint or limited movement
- Red, warm, or swollen joint
- A sudden fever that might appear and disappear
- Limping (difficulty using one leg or arm)
- Development of rush on the trunk as well as extremities that occur and go with the fever
- Symptoms such as swollen lymph glands and pale skin in some parts of the body
- Generally feeling unwell
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is the most common type of arthritis in children. It can also result in eye conditions such as uveitis, iritis, or iridocyclitis. When eye symptoms associated with arthritis occurs, they might include;
- Eye pain, particularly when you look at the light
- Eye redness
- Changes of the vision
Causes of Arthritis
The causes of various forms of arthritis vary. Gout, for example, is caused by an excess of uric acid in the body. The precise cause of other forms of arthritis, on the other hand, is unclear. According to medical experts, you might develop the condition if you have the following characteristics;
- A history of arthritis in your family.
- A job or participate in a sport that puts strain on the joints repeatedly
- You are suffering from an autoimmune disorder or a viral infection.
Risk Factors of Arthritis
Some of the risk factors that increase the possibility of developing arthritis include;
- Age: Many forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis, become more common as people get older.
- Family history: Certain forms of arthritis are hereditary, meaning they run within the family. Therefore, if your parents or siblings have the disease, you might be at risk of developing it. Genes can also make you prone to some environmental factors that can cause arthritis.
- Gender: Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women than in men, while gout, another form of arthritis, is more common in men.
- Obesity: Having too much weight puts a lot of stress on your joints, especially the hips, spine, and knees. This means that obese people are more likely to get arthritis with time.
- Previous joint damage or injury: Individuals who have sustained a broken or injured joint, such as when playing games, are at risk of developing arthritis in that joint in the future.
Complications of Arthritis
The possible complications and side effects of arthritis include;
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Arthritis patients can also suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. It occurs due to the compression of the median nerve, which regulates sensation and movement in the hands. Symptoms include numbness, aching, and tingling around the fingers, thumb, and section of the hand.
- Permanent joint damage
The inflammation in your joints could cause severe and permanent damage if arthritis is not treated early or well managed. The following are some of the issues that can impact the joints:
- Damage to the surrounding bone and cartilage (a robust and elastic material that covers the joint surface)
- Damage to the surrounding tendons, which could result in breakage or rupture
- Deformities of the joint
At times, such problems required a surgical intervention to avoid losing the function of the impaired joints.
- Spread of the inflammation
Arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, is an inflammatory disease. Hence, it can result in inflammation in certain areas of the body, including:
Lungs: Pleurisy or pulmonary fibrosis is caused by inflammation of the lungs or lung lining. This may cause chest pain, a constant cough, or shortness of breath.
Eyes: Scleritis or Sjögren's syndrome is caused by inflammation of the eyes. Scleritis causes redness and discomfort in the eyes, while Sjögren's syndrome causes eye dryness.
Heart: Pericarditis, or inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart, may cause chest pain.
Blood vessels: Vasculitis, thickening, narrowing, scarring, and weakening of blood vessel walls is caused by inflammation of the blood vessels. It can impair blood supply to the organs and tissues, and it might be a fatal problem in severe cases.
The first diagnostic procedure of arthritis is physical examination. It involves assessment of the joints for any swelling, warmth, or redness. During the examination, the arthritis doctor will also check how well your joint can move.
The doctor might suggest other diagnostic tests and procedures based on the form of arthritis they suspect. They can include;
- Laboratory tests
The doctor can analyze various forms of body fluids to determine the kind of arthritis you have. Blood, joint fluid, and semen are the most widely tested fluids. The doctor will first cleanse and numb the region before withdrawing a sample of your joint fluid with a needle inserted into the joint cavity.
- Imaging tests
If the laboratory tests do not provide accurate results, the doctor can recommend imaging tests. These forms of tests are capable of detecting any issues inside the joint that might be causing the symptoms. Some of the commonly used imaging tests include;
X-ray: This technique comprises a form of radiography that uses low levels of radiation to visualize bone. It can also reveal cartilage loss, bone damage or injury, and bone spurs. However, arthritis x-ray does not detect an early arthritic problem but are usually used to monitor disease progression.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This method combines a strong magnetic field and radio waves. It produces more accurate cross-sectional pictures of soft tissues, including cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.
Computerized tomography (CT) scan: Doctors use the CT scan technique to visualize the bones as well as the nearby soft tissues. CT scanners use x-ray images from various angles and combine the details to form cross-sectional internal structure views.
Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves are used to visualize cartilage, soft tissues, and structures containing fluids around joints (bursae). Ultrasound can also help with joint aspirations or injections by guiding needle positioning.
Arthritis treatment aims to alleviate symptoms and improve joint function. Before you figure out what works well for you, you might have to try a few different treatments or even combinations of some treatments.
Medical providers can thus recommend the following forms of treatment;
Depending on the form of arthritis, different drugs can be used to address the issue. The following are some of the most commonly prescribed arthritis medications;
Painkillers: Doctors prescribe these drugs to help ease pain, although they do not have any effect on inflammation. Acetaminophen such as Tylenol is an example of an over-the-counter painkiller option.
NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): These are arthritis pain relief drugs that also minimize inflammation. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and naproxen (Aleve) sodium are two NSAIDs that can be purchased over-the-counter or even online. Other NSAIDs come in creams, gels, or patches and can be applied directly to the affected joint areas.
DMARDs (Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs): Doctors recommend these medications to delay or prevent the immune system from attacking and damaging the joints. They are commonly used to address rheumatoid arthritis. Methotrexate (Trexall, Rasuvo, and others) and hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) are the examples.
Counterirritants: Certain types of ointments and cream contain capsaicin or menthol. This ingredient usually spices up the hot peppers. Applying and gently rubbing these preparations around the skin over the aching joint may alter pain signals transmitted from the joint.
Biologic response modifiers: These are genetically engineered medications that target different protein molecules involved with the immune response. They are normally used in combination with DMARDs. Biologic response modifiers come in a variety of forms. However, inhibitors, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF), are often prescribed.
Corticosteroids: Prednisone (Prednisone Intensol, Rayos) and cortisone (Cortef) are examples of drugs that belong to this class. They help in reducing inflammation and suppressing the body’s immune system. You can take corticosteroid medication orally, or it can be injected directly into a sore joint.
Doctors often suggest arthritis surgery treatment for the most serious cases of arthritis condition. Such cases involve those that conservative treatments have failed to address. The surgical options can thus include the following;
Joints repair: The surgeon can smoothen or realign the joint surfaces to minimize discomfort and increase function in some cases. These operations are often done arthroscopically via small incisions created over the joint.
Joint replacement: This procedure involves replacing the injured or damaged joint. The surgeon will first remove the part and then replace it using an artificial one during this process. Hips and knees are the most often replaced joints.
Joints fusion: Smaller joints, like those within the wrist, fingers, and foot, are most often treated with this treatment. It separates the ends of the two bones in the joint and then locks them together till the joint heals into a single rigid unit.
- Physical therapy
People with certain forms of arthritis can benefit from physical therapy. Exercises will help increase the range of motion and strengthen the muscles that support the joints. Splints or braces may be essential in some situations.
Physical therapy forms can be suggested in the following ways:
- Warm water therapy: This involves arthritis exercise in a warm-water tub. The water supports a person’s weight and puts little pressure on the joints and muscles.
- Physical therapy consists of activities that focus on the patient's condition and desires. It is at times paired with pain-relieving medications like ice or hot packs, as well as massage.
- Occupational therapy; provides practical guidance on completing daily activities, selecting specialized aids and equipment, preventing further joint injury, and coping with fatigue.
Natural Remedies of Arthritis
Patients with arthritis can maintain their general health by eating a healthy and balanced diet. Getting enough exercise, avoiding cigarette smoking, and not consuming too much alcohol is also helpful.
- Diet plan
There is no particular diet for arthritis. However, taking certain types of foods can help minimize inflammation. The foods found in a Mediterranean diet can offer various nutrients that are beneficial to joint health. These types of foods include fish, beans, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and olive oil.
On the other hand, people who have arthritis are advised to avoid certain types of foods. Tomatoes and other nightshade vegetables contain a chemical known as solanine. Some researchers have related this chemical to arthritis pain. When it comes to these vegetables, research results are mixed. Nonetheless, some people have shown a positive decrease in arthritis symptoms by refraining from nightshade vegetables.
- Self Management
There are other things you can consider to help manage and control your arthritis, in addition to medical treatment. If you have arthritis, you will not always feel like doing some exercises. You may also be concerned that exercise would aggravate your pain or illness.
Exercise, on the other hand, can help with symptoms including pain and swelling in various ways such as;
- Making the muscles stronger hence providing better support to the joints
- Enabling the joints to maintain a standard range of movement
- Making the joints supple and reducing the chances of becoming stiff
- Improving overall fitness and health, hence enabling you to maintain an average weight
Other habits that can enable you to effectively manage arthritis include;
- Keeping track of arthritis-related symptoms, drugs, pain levels, and potential side effects in preparation for medical visits.
- Fatigue and pain management. A prescription regimen may be used in conjunction with non-medical pain control. To live safely with arthritis, you must learn to control your exhaustion.
- Eating a nutritious diet: A well-balanced diet will assist you in maintaining a healthy weight and reducing inflammation. Consider whole plant foods rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties over refined or processed foods and pro-inflammatory animal-derived products.
- Sufficient sleep: Lack of sleep can exacerbate arthritis pain as well as fatigue. Thus, you should take the necessary measures to improve your sleep hygiene so that you can fall and stay asleep more easily. In the evenings, avoid caffeine and tiring exercise, and limit screen time right before bedtime.
- Balancing activity and rest: When the disease is involved, rest is just as necessary as staying active.
- Taking care of the joints: Tips to effectively protect the joints involve using the heavier, wider joints as levers when opening the doors. Spreading the weight of an object with many joints could also be helpful. For instance, wearing a backpack with the gripping as loose as possible using padded handles.
Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease. It comes in a variety of forms, all of which can result in discomfort and limit mobility. Natural wear and tear may cause certain types of arthritis. Autoimmune or inflammatory disorders cause other forms.
Although arthritis has no cure, the correct form of treatment will significantly ease the symptoms. You can control your arthritis by making a variety of lifestyle improvements in addition to the medications the doctor recommends.