Coping with Arthritis

Arthritis is one of the biggest causes of disability in the UK. The word ‘arthritis’ means inflammation of the joints and over 200 different kinds of ‘arthritis’ have been identified. Some forms of arthritis are symptoms of other diseases, such as lupus erythematosus. However, when we talk about arthritis we generally mean the most common forms, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. These types of arthritis tend to affect the knee, finger and hip joints – these are known as synovial joints because of the synovial fluid found between them.

Causes

Arthritis affects people of all ages, though one of the commonest forms, osteoarthritis usually first affects people aged between 40 and 60 and gets more common with age. Osteoarthritis is due to wear and tear of the joints which is made worse by being overweight. With osteoarthritis the cartilage breaks down in weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees and the lower back.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory type of arthritis which often affects the hands and neck. It usually appears in people between the age of 30 and 50, but children or young adults can also be affected. This form of arthritis tends to be inherited and is caused by the body’s defence mechanism reacting abnormally to the lining of the joint capsule.

Gout is caused by crystal formation in the joints and may be inherited or triggered by certain medicines, alcohol and some foods.

Symptoms

Common symptoms of arthritis include discomfort, aches and pains, swelling and inflammation, stiffness and fatigue. The symptoms can vary greatly from one form to another and can be short-lived or long-term. For example, with osteoarthritis the pain and discomfort tends to be restricted to the affected joint area, while rheumatoid arthritis causes more general aches, pains and fatigue. Also, with osteoarthritis the pain and loss of movement tend to get worse during the day as the joints are used more. In rheumatoid arthritis the pain is usually worse in the morning and often eases during the day. People with arthritis may develop disabilities such as loss of strength and grip, while long-standing and severe arthritis can eventually lead to deformity of the joint and permanent loss of movement.

Treatment

Your doctor will use a combination of medicines, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and other support services to help manage your arthritis. Osteoarthritis is generally manageable with simple measures such as weight loss and pain relief. Rheumatoid arthritis is sometimes treated with medicines that suppress the immune system.

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Useful Tips

  • Damp, hot or humid weather and certain foods can trigger symptoms. These vary so try to identify them and then discuss it with your doctor.
  • If you are overweight, try losing a few pounds.
  • Keep active to strengthen muscles, but make sure you donKeep active to strengthen muscles, but make sure you dont put too much strain on your joints. Non-weightbearing exercise such as swimming is ideal.
  • Very swollen joints should be rested .
  • During a bad attack take painkillers and wear warm clothing over the joints.
  • Trainer shoes may help ease the pressure on large joints and even help back and neck pains. Try special cushioning innersoles for shoes.
  • Ice and heat packs may ease the pain.
  • It has been suggested that certain foods such as ginger and cider vinegar can help.
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