Arthritis is a pain. And literally, that is what arthritis means, a joint that is painful. It is therefore rather meaningless to say that someone has arthritis, as it depends what type of arthritis is present. Once the type is known, specific measures can be taken to treat it.
The mainstay of treatment in nearly all types of arthritis is a group of drugs known as anti-inflammatories. These are tablets, capsules or even suppositories that will reduce the inflammation and pain in damaged joints.
Most victims of arthritis respond well to anti-inflammatory drugs, but a small percentage have stomach upsets with them, so they are always taken after meals and cannot be used by patients with stomach ulcers or similar problems.
The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. This is basically a wear-and-tear phenomenon. It is more common in old age and occurs in the major joints such as knees, hips and between the vertebrae in the back. The joint becomes painful to movement, and often deformed due to the damage caused by decades of use. If conventional treatments fail, artificial hip and knee joints can be used very successfully for this condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammation of the smaller joints of the body, particularly the hands, although any joint may be involved. It is not due to wear and tear, but is an abnormal rejection of the joint tissue by the body, and may be associated with problems outside the joints. It tends to be slowly progressive over many years, although periods of complete remission can occur. It is important to start treatment early in the course of the disease, and exotic drugs including gold and chloroquine, can be used in advanced cases.
Gout is another common form of arthritis that tends to come in very acute attacks that occur time and again. It often attacks the ball of the foot, but other joints may be involved. It is due to the deposition of millions of microscopic needle-shaped crystals in a joint. These crystals can also damage the kidneys, so it is important to keep the disease under control by taking tablets every day, year after year, to prevent their formation.
Viral infections can also cause arthritis. A bad dose of the flu can give aching joints, but Dengue fever (also known as breakbone fever) and Ross River Fever are other common examples of viruses that can cause severe joint pain, usually only for a limited period.
The skin disease psoriasis may cause arthritis in some sufferers. This is a most difficult form of arthritis to treat. Other forms of arthritis may be due to bacterial infections, tuberculosis, joint in jury, cancer, leukemia, under-active thyroid gland and even venereal disease.
The precise diagnosis of the type of arthritis present is therefore vital before treatment is started. This may involve just a careful examination by the doctor, but often x-rays and blood tests are used. If you have a painful joint, don’t just brush it aside as mere arthritis, find out what sort of arthritis it is, and obtain effective help early in its course to avoid later complications.
The truth about arthritis
What is arthritis?
It is the name for the oldest group of chronic diseases known to mankind. Arthritis is an inflammation invades the joints. Its two most forms are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis in its common form is slowly progressive, often leading to crippling. Osteoarthritis is associated with ageing and it usually attacks those joints that undergo the greatest wear and tear. The management of osteoarthritis is not as difficult as is the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
What causes arthritis?
The cause is not known. There are a number of precipitating factors believed to “trigger” the start of the disease. These are acute infection, physical and emotional strain, fatigue, injury, shock, undue exposure to cold and dampness, and heredity.
Is arthritis ever fatal?
It is seldom fatal. Arthritis itself is considered a chronic disease. However, prolonged crippling and invalidism do weaken the body and its vital organs, thus hastening death.
Does arthritis ever go away?
Yes, it does. But very often it recurs. In its most severe form, comprising about 25 percent of all cases, hands and fingers may be horribly deformed. Other joints may be permanently crippled and stiffened. If the spine is involved it may be frozen into a solid, immovable mass. The wasting away of the joints, the destruction of the cartilage in them and the thinning of the involved bones cannot be repaired.
Is arthritis on the increase?
Yes. A recent survey in the United States showed that more than 54.4 million US adults (22.7%) annually are suffering with arthritis and rheumatic diseases. This does not include children and young people suffering from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and rheumatic fever.
Are there early warning signs of arthritis?
Yes. The earliest symptoms are often fatigue, loss of appetite, weakness and a tingling sensation in the hands and feet. The most often ignored are the slight joint swellings that come and go over the years. Usually they will involve the knees or the fingers. In the early stages, the symptoms are pain, swelling and stiffness. The inflammation will cause the joint to be tender and warm to the touch.
Are there tests for arthritis?
There are no generally useful diagnostic tests for arthritis.
Can crippling be predicted in advance?
Is arthritis more often painful than crippling?
Yes, it is. But the threat of severe crippling always exists. There probably is no other disease which produces more pain over a period of years than does rheumatoid arthritis.
Is arthritis a disease of old age?
It can attack persons in any age group. In adults, rheumatoid arthritis most commonly attacks persons between the age of 20 and 50. Osteoarthritis usually makes its first appearance after the age of 50.
Does sex make any difference?
Yes, it does. Rheumatoid arthritis attacks three women for every man. Rheumatoid arthritis of the spine, however, attacks 10 men for every woman.
Is arthritis inherited?
Heredity plays a major role in rheumatoid arthritis, statistical studies indicate. The disease will attack more than one member of a family. Members of a family in which an active case exists appear to be more susceptible to the disease.
What about rest?
Rest is one of the oldest and most valuable methods of treatment. In the early active stages of rheumatoid arthritis doctors usually will suggest bed rest for several weeks or more. If you are able to continue with your work, then daily rest periods are in order. However rest can be overdone.
Prolonged bed rest will weaken and waste your muscles, thus limiting motion and making crippling more severe. Besides, there is a psychological factor. There is always the danger that an arthritic patient who goes to bed for an indefinite rest will mentally give up his fight against the disease, and so in time become completely crippled.
What about exercise?
There is a general misconception as to the use of exercise in arthritis. Many people think the activities of daily living, such as housework, provide sufficient exercise for the joints. However, it is special therapeutic exercises, most of them non-weight bearing, supervised by a doctor, which are very important in maintaining joint motion and muscle tone.
Does a dry climate help?
You are mistaken if you think that going to a warm, dry climate will cure your arthritis. If the trip is going to mean a financial strain, the move will not be worth it. A warm, dry climate may make you feel better, especially if you are on a vacation. It’s the rest and change of scene that may have a temporary, soothing effect. But if any more definite benefits are to be derived, dry, warm climate must be combined with proper medical and physical therapy.