Arthritis is a group of conditions involving damage to the joints of the body, which leads to joint inflammation. Inflammation is one of the body's natural reactions to disease or injury and includes swelling, pain and stiffness. Inflammation that lasts for a very long time or recurs, such as in arthritis, can lead to tissue damage.
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. Different types of arthritis have different symptoms and the symptoms vary in severity from person to person. Symptoms may include fatigue, fever, a rash and signs of joint inflammation. The signs of joint inflammation are pain, swelling, stiffness, tenderness, redness and warmth. Three of the more common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form and occurs when the cartilage covering the end of the bones gradually wears away. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, but most often affects the hands and weight-bearing joints due to age and overuse.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-lasting disease that can affect joints in any part of the body, except the lower back. In this form, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks itself and causes the joint lining to swell. The inflammation then spreads to the surrounding tissues, and can eventually damage cartilage and bone.
Gout is a painful condition that occurs when the body cannot eliminate a natural substance called uric acid. The excess uric acid forms needle-like crystals in the joints that cause swelling and severe pain.
The causes of most types of arthritis are unknown. Although the exact causes might not be known, there are several risk factors that increase an individuals chance of developing a form of arthritis. These risks include:
Age - The risk of developing arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, increases with age.
Gender - In general, arthritis occurs more frequently in women than in men.
Obesity - Being overweight puts extra stress on weight-bearing joints, increasing wear and tear and increasing the risk of arthritis.
Work Factors - Some jobs that require repetitive movements or heavy lifting can stress the joints and cause an injury, which can lead to arthritis.
If arthritis is diagnosed early, most types can be managed and the pain and disability minimized. Early diagnosis and treatment may be able to prevent tissue damage caused by arthritis. The goal of arthritis treatment is to provide pain relief and increase joint mobility and strength. There are several treatment options and treatment plans may involve more than one of these options. Treatment options include medication, exercise, hot/cold compresses, use of joint protection and surgery.
Along with treatment, there are preventative measures that can be taken. Although it may not be possible to prevent arthritis, there are steps to take to reduce the risk of developing the diseases and to slow or prevent permanent joint damage. These preventative steps include:
Maintaining a healthy weight. Excess weight puts strain on joints.
Exercising. Stronger muscles can help protect and support joints.
Using joint-protecting devices and techniques at work. Proper lifting and posture can help protect muscles and joints.
Eating a healthy diet. A well balanced and nutritious diet can help strengthen bones and muscles.
For more information, call the Arthritis Foundation at 1-800-420-5554, visit its website at www.arthritis.org., or call Littauer's Physical Therapy Services at 773-5541 or HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120.
People can e-mail HealthLink Littauer at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit its website at www.nlh.org, or visit its wellness center at 213 Harrison St. Ext. in Johnstown, on Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.