Put simply, the term refers to “joint inflammation”. It is typically referred to as a single disease, in reality, however, it is an umbrella term used to describe more than 200 medical conditions/diseases (rheumatic diseases) that affect the joints including bones, ligaments, muscles, and cartilage.
Usually associated with older people, it can affect anyone from young children to senior citizens. It is one of the most common medical conditions in Australia, affecting more than 3.9 million adults and children, creating disability and medical expenses that exceed billions of dollars a year.
Whether you have recently been diagnosed with arthritis or have been living with it for quite some time, it can raise many concerns and questions. So, what are the different types, what can you do to prevent it, how is it treated, and what are some of the newer treatment options that can help you better understand and deal with its debilitating symptoms more effectively.
There are over 100 different types which affect people in different ways, but all of them share the following common symptoms:
- persistent joint pain
- swelling in joint/s
- tenderness and stiffness
- decreased range of motion
Although there is no single common cause for the different types of arthritis, wear and tear of the joints, connective tissues, and ligaments from frequent use and/or injuries may result in an arthritic condition. Sometimes, it is difficult to pinpoint an underlying cause, but a combination of factors is thought to play a part. Some possible causes of arthritis may include:
- genetics, such as osteoarthritis
- immune system dysfunction, such as SLE and RA
- injury, leading to degenerative arthritis
- infections, such as arthritis in Lyme disease
- abnormal metabolism, such as in osteoarthritis
What Are The Different Types?
Though arthritis can take more than 200 different forms, the most common types of arthritis are:
- Osteoarthritis (OA) – also referred to as degenerative arthritis is probably the most common type of arthritis which affects the whole joint including muscles, bones, ligaments, and cartilage. More than 2.1 million Australians are affected by this type of arthritis.
- Rheumatoid (RA) – is the most common inflammatory form of arthritis caused by malfunctioning of the body’s immune system which starts to attach the connective tissues of different body parts/joints causing inflammation, pain, and degeneration of joint tissues.
- Juvenile (JA) – an umbrella term used to describe different types of arthritis that affect children. Also referred to as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) or Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, this is actually a type of auto-immune disorder that affects around 6,000 Australian children annually.
- Psoriatic (PSA) – this type of arthritis usually affects people with the skin disease psoriasis, however only 10-20% of the people with psoriasis will also have Psoriatic arthritis.
- Reactive – this type of arthritis usually develops following an infection and causes swelling, pain, and inflammation of the joints.
- Gout – another common type of rheumatic disease which is caused by the accumulation of urate crystals inside the joints causing inflammation, pain, and swelling. This type of arthritis usually affects the joints at the base of the big toe, but it may affect other body joints such as joints in the wrists, knees, ankles, and elbow.
- Fibromyalgia – also referred to as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a type of central pain syndrome in which the brain processes the pain signals differently and amplifies the perception of the pain. It causes generalized body pain, extreme fatigue, and muscle stiffness.
- Lupus – also known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is also a type of autoimmune disease in which body’s own immune system starts to attack other healthy body tissues, producing widespread inflammation. SLE can impact other body organs such as kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, and skin besides affecting joints.
What Can I Do To Prevent It?
Aging is a natural process and there is nothing we can do to stop or avoid it. As we age, several parts of our body naturally wear down; especially our joints that help connect the bones. The wearing of joints makes them inflamed or damaged over time and this is one of the main reasons we experience arthritis pain. By the time we reach the age of 65, nearly half of us will suffer from some type of arthritis.
Although there is nothing you can do to stop the natural aging process, or change your genes, there are certain things you can do to keep your joints healthy, maintain mobility and functionality, and make yourself a less likely candidate for certain types of arthritis.
- Lose Weight – being overweight is a risk factor for developing osteoarthritis and many other chronic diseases. Overweight women are 4X more likely to experience osteoarthritis pain than women with healthy body weight. Losing weight is a good start to lowering your risk of developing osteoarthritis.
- Be Physically Active – by participating in various physical activities, such as walking, running, weight lifting, swimming, etc you will not only be able to reduce your excess weight but also strengthen the muscles around the joints. Certain exercise programs such as stretching and aerobic activities will also help you maintain your flexibility and range of motion.
- Eat Healthy Diet – healthy diet rich in certain nutrients such as vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids is linked with healthy bones and joints and reducing inflammation. Eating fish like sardines, trout, salmon, and mackerel twice a week may lower the risk of rheumatoid arthritis in women.
- Avoid Injury – people with past joint injuries are at a greater risk of experiencing arthritis pain. Therefore make sure to wear protective gear while playing any sports and always use the correct techniques.
- Protect Your Joints – the better you take care of your joints, the better they will take care of you down the line. Avoid lifting heavy items, avoid sitting in awkward positions, and avoid putting too much pressure on your joints to protect them for later part of your life.
Pay Regular Visits to your Doctor – arthritis is a progressive disorder, means the longer you wait to seek treatment, the more the damage. Visit your doctor or a rheumatologist on regular basis and seek his/her professional advice on how to prevent arthritis and preserve your mobility.
Southbank Medical Centre