Arthritis is a condition affecting the joints in the body, which become inflamed and painful due to damage or disease. There are many different types of arthritis each with different causes. They each affect different age groups and different joints of the body.

The symptoms of arthritis range from a mild ache in a joint through to severe pain, loss of movement and joint deformity. The most common forms of the condition are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

Osteoarthritis

Usually a progressive condition, affecting people from their late forties onwards. It most commonly affects the weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees and lower back. It can also affect the neck, thumb joints and big toe. Symptoms include painful joints, stiffness after activity and limited movement. It can affect a single joint or several.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

A severe inflammatory disease which commonly affects the hands, wrists, arms and feet. Joints become red and swollen and are often warm to the touch. Even when resting, joints are painful and the pain and stiffness often increases with long periods of inactivity. Rheumatoid arthritis can develop at any time but the first signs often appear in middle age. It is more common in women and can run in families. Rheumatoid disease can affect other organs of the body including the eyes, kidneys, lungs, heart and skin.

Causes

Arthritis has a variety of causes including infection of a joint, injury or by erosion of the joint due to wear and tear. Arthritis can also be linked to other diseases such as gout, psoriasis and bowel disease.

  • Age is a large factor in the development of osteoarthritis. The cartilage, which acts as a shock absorber between the bones, can wear away or become damaged by injury. The exposed bones then grind together causing pain and swelling in the joint and surrounding area. Bone then begins to thicken and this can change the shape of the joint
  • Being overweight can put extra pressure on joints and increase the likelihood of arthritis developing
  • Some forms of arthritis can be hereditary
  • Ankylosing spondylitis is a hereditary arthritis typically affecting young men. It usually involves the spine and joints of the lower back
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition caused by the body's immune system which attacks the soft tissues of the joint and causes damage to the bone and other organs
  • Rheumatoid arthritis has also been linked to food allergy

Avoiding Arthritis

  • Avoid excessive weight gain. Maintaining your ideal body weight avoids putting extra strain on jointsLead an active lifestyle. Gentle walking and swimming can increase joint mobilityAlways carry out activities in a safe and correct manner and avoid any activities which could lead to excessive strain on the jointsPace physical activity throughout the day rather than taking one burst of strenuous exercise
  • Although there is no proven link between diet and the management of arthritis, you should eat a healthy, well balanced diet including plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and grains. Taking supplements such as cod liver oil, evening primrose oil, glucosamine, antioxidants or vitamin D may help. Ask your pharmacist to advise you

Treatment

  • Resting the joint will help to reduce inflammation in the short term but it is important to try to maintain a level of mobilityLose excess weight to reduce pressure on jointsApply a heat pack to the affected area to alleviate painUse a walking stick or similar aid to ease pressure on the affected joints. Occupational therapists can provide you with mobility aids to make walking easierHydrotherapy (exercising in water) can help. Water is weight-bearing so allows joints to move more freely
  • Physiotherapy can help reduce joint stiffness, strengthen muscles and maximise mobility

A number of different drug treatments can also be used to reduce swelling and ease pain. Analgesics are pain-killers which can help to ease the pain of arthritis. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help to reduce any inflammation in the joint as well as reduce pain (these can cause side effects in some people such as stomach upsets and may not be suitable for someone suffering from stomach ulcers, asthma or kidney problems). Antirheumatic drugs can prevent or even reduce damage to the joints. Steroids injected into a specific joint to reduce inflammation and help strengthen bones.Sometimes it is necessary to replace a joint that has become damaged and is affecting mobility and quality of life. The hip, knee and finger joints are the most common joints to be replaced.In some cases, an operation to fuse together the bones of the joint can be performed to prevent the bones from moving. This reduces pain and improves stability.

When To See A Doctor

Make an appointment to see your doctor if a joint becomes inflamed and painful; if a joint is persistently stiff for no apparent reason; if the stiffness lasts for around 30 minutes after getting up; if the pain persists even when the joint is 'at rest'.

Additional Information

For additional information about arthritis, contact the Arthritis Research Campaign, Copeman House, St Mary's Court, St Mary's Gate, Chesterfield, Derbyshire S41 7TD or visit their website at www.arc.org.uk <http://www.arc.org.uk