Arthritis is derived from the Greek word 'arthro' which refers to the word joint and 'itis' which refers to inflammation it is readily apparent that it is a term that aptly describes itself.
There are approximately one hundred types of arthritic diseases and it is estimated that in America alone there are over 45 million people who suffer from some form of it. And although it is a disease that we may normally associate with older people - the very young can suffer from it as well.
There is no one definitive cause for arthritis that can be pointed to, although there are a number of factors that can contribute to developing it. There can be a genetic disposition to it. It can 'run' in some families.
Arthritis can also come about as a result of a chemical imbalance in the body. Or if the body has an overactive immune system. The incident of an injury or working at a job that regularly puts a lot of stress on the joints is another common factor.
The inflammation that occurs with arthritis is the body's common defense system in action. This can involve some swelling, redness and heat, as well as pain. The body is reacting to some invasive issue. When this inflammation occurs in a joint area, this can limit the normal use of this joint and eventually impair it's function over all.
In a healthy joint the bones are coated with a smooth elastic material called the cartilage. This tough substance protects the bones and acts as a shock absorber allowing the two bones to work together. The entire joint is as well encased in a capsule that prevents it from becoming dislocated. The lining of this casing is called the synovium which produces a nourishing, thick liquid that helps keep the joint well lubricated. If this casing becomes inflamed due to arthritis the result is that it produces too much fluid and this fluid will contain inflammatory cells. This inflamed liquid can then cause damage to first the cartilage and then the underlying bone.
There are certain types of arthritis that go on to affect more that the joints of bones. Lupus can affect the skin, nervous system, kidneys and heart. Fibromyalgia can induce muscle pain and chronic fatigue. Scleroderma causes the connective tissue of the skin to thicken and harden and works on the internal organs as well.
The dynamics of this disease in all of it's many manifestations is the subject of much relentless research. Treatments in a multitude of areas are offered. Support and training is available to learn how to cope within one's lifestyle. But ultimately, as with other diseases, establishing a specific diagnosis early on is vitally important to improving the long term management of it and the eventual outcome.
Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
The most prevalent type of arthritis is called osteoarthritis. It is a result of the breakdown of the tough, elastic cartilage that acts as a protection for the ends of bones in their joints. As the cartilage breaks down some pieces can break off and cause further pain and inflammation in the joint. At times spurs may develop or the cartilage breaks down completely and the ends of the bones will painfully rub together. It affects men and women equally and although it can occur at any time during life it is most often associated with individuals in their middle age.
Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint such as the hands but usually weight bearing joints suffer the most frequently - such as the hips, knees and spine. As it becomes more difficult to use these joints extenuating problems can develop as the muscles surrounding them go unused for lengths of time and begin to weaken.
With this particular type of arthritis the pain can develop slowly and can involve some pain, swelling and stiffness surrounding a joint that lingers on for more than two weeks at a time. Heredity can play a role in who may be prone to osteoarthritis but excess weight can accelerate matters as more stress is put on joints. Other factors include injuries or overuse of joints that can damage the cartilage
Rheumatoid Arthritis also affects a large number of the population. It is an autoimmune disease, which indicates that the body's immune system is attacking other parts of the body. It is also demonstrated by pain, swelling and heat around the affected joint. Because it is autoimmune based it can affect other internal organs as well, such as the heart and lungs. It seems to occur mainly in the hands and feet but can be found in other joints.
The inflammation of this type of arthritis can be painful and if left untreated may cause permanent damage. However, even when the pain is not severe there can be some initial joint damage that may only show up through x-rays. Studies have shown that usually the most amount of damage or deformity to joints occurs during the first few years after the onset of the disease. People with severe Rheumatoid Arthritis can have trouble using their hands to do simple tasks and may have difficulty even walking. It has been shown to affect women three times more often that men and can occur in young individuals as well as older ones.
As with Osteoarthritis the indications will include inflammation and joint pain. But Rheumatoid Arthritis can include a variety of other symptoms such as weakness, fever and weight loss. It can begin with a flu like appearance. And each individual's experience can vary over time with the disease possibly going through different remissions.
Rheumatoid Arthritis also seems to follow a symmetrical pattern - where if one hand is affected so will the other one be. As a distinguishing characteristic it does not seem to affect the joints nearest the fingernails although the rest of the hands and wrists may suffer. It can strike any joint but does not seem to affect the spine. And it's inflammation can erupt in other body organs and tissues.
It has been difficult for researchers to understand the cause and variances of this disease. Ongoing studies are trying to determine any markers in the blood that may prove to be indicators of genetic probability. As with all types of arthritis the medical community hopes to find not only the causes but a way to repair and rebuild lost joint tissue and thus be able to give relief to millions of sufferers.
Getting a Diagnosis
There is said to be approximately one hundred types of arthritic diseases. At times the symptoms of these various types overlap. And though it may be a straightforward diagnosis for some cases - for others it may take some time for the specific type of arthritis to be narrowed down.
What is important to remember is that if you or someone you know begins to develop symptoms that seem to point to arthritis - and these symptoms last longer than a couple of weeks - then it is time to get a check up by a doctor or a rheumatologist. The longer the disease has to progress the more likelihood that there will be irreversible damage to bones, joints or even organs.
Some of the more basic indicators are signs of inflammation such as redness, swelling and tenderness in and around a joint. Along with pain there may be a stiffness that only allows for a limited range of movement.
Your physician will proceed with a diagnosis after he has concluded a physical examination and can evaluate your medical history along with any diagnostic tests and X-rays given. Of course the existence of pain, swelling or stiffness in the joints is a primary sign. There could be bony lumps or spurs that appear in the end and middle joints of fingers. And the affected joints may not only be difficult to move but may also be thicker than usual. Certain blood exams are able to show the presence of gout or lupus. Others can detect the presence of a 'rheumatoid factor' which is an antibody that can help confirm that Rheumatoid Arthritis is a possibility. These blood tests will help narrow the focus to a specific type of arthritis.
Unfortunately there are types of this disease that are harder to detect. This may mean subsequent testing and a period of time spent with different specialists. Imaging techniques may be employed such as arthography that uses a contrast dye to highlight problems in and around joints that may not easily be seen on regular x-rays. Thermal imaging is used to measure the contrast in heat on skin which is common to arthritic joints. And MRIs seem to help in detecting bone erosion in finer detail and thus picking it up sooner that standards x-rays might. Ultrasound imaging is gaining credence for the same reason.
Another detection device is called Joint Fluid Analysis wherein a needle and syringe are used to extract fluid from around a swollen joint to be examined by a specialist for the presence of inflammatory cells. However it will be evident that something is amiss immediately if the liquid is cloudy. Normal fluid will be somewhere between clear and light yellow and viscous in nature. Extracting the liquid will not only help with the diagnosis it may also provide some immediate relief of pressure on the joint.
Over all, researchers are working diligently to discover quicker and more precise methods of narrowing down the factors that are at work in any individual that define what type of arthritis they are dealing with. Given that many times a combination of types may be at work it is a challenging problem to say the least.
Although there is no definitive cure offered by the medical profession for arthritis there is nonetheless a wide selection of treatments offered. How a person proceeds in his treatment will be a combination of what is suggested by their doctor and what they personally discover to be successful through research and results. As each individual is unique - so is the course of their disease and the treatments involved. What may work for one may not work for another. It has been said that it can require an open mind to explore different avenues of treatment, however, it is vital that one does so in the most responsible way possible.
The medical profession has a number of sophisticated medications that work to help mitigate the symptoms of arthritis in it's many forms. They work to prevent further joint damage and help to keep the patient as mobile and pain free as possible. Some of these are as follows:
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs that are most commonly prescribed for arthritis. There is a wide and varied selection that can include common aides such as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen amongst others that work to relieve pain - analgesics - and fever - antipyretic. Because nearly every drug carries with it the possibility of side affects, sometimes severely so, it is important to discuss your options with your doctor before choosing one.
Cortocosteroids are drugs that are closely connected to cortisol which is a hormone produced in the body's adrenal cortex. They work to block the production of substances that trigger allergic or inflammatory responses in the body thus helping to reduce the inflammation caused by arthritis. But one of the unfortunate side effects is that they also reduce the function of white blood cells which are a vital part of our immune system. This opens the patient up to the increased susceptibility of infection. Used in proper balance they have brought great relief to many people.
Disease modifying anti rheumatic drugs that slow down the disease process by modifying the immune system in some manner. They are slower acting and although effective in many ways are not used on the front line of treatment. As with the other treatments there is concern over side effects. Constant monitoring and blood tests keep a watch on their effectiveness and the side effects. Gold, Penicillamine and Plaquenil are amongst this group.
Biologic drugs which are referred to as biologic response modifiers help stimulate the body's immune system to put up a better fight against infections and diseases. These medicines are compounds that are made by living cells. These include such well known names as interferon and interleukin-2.
These examples give a simple over view of the types of drugs and the approach medicine takes in treating arthritis. The goal is to mitigate the painful symptoms while trying to stimulate the body's natural healing ability to fight off further infection or inflammation that would worsen the disease. Of course, it is always recommended that when committing to any course of treatment that the patient take the necessary time to investigate the pros and cons of their choice.
In seeking treatment for the disease of arthritis there is a vast arsenal of medications that may be suggested by your health care provider. With due consideration to the side effects and long term effectiveness of these drugs you may decide to proceed with one or a combination of them. No one can fully understand or empathize with the pain that may be your daily companion. Each individual is alone in this in the sense that we each have different capacities for pain.
There is two main categories of pain associated with arthritis. Acute and chronic. Acute pain is something that is viewed as temporary. Chronic pain - whether it be mild or severe - is pain that lasts for a good length of time.
Not only is pain uncomfortable - and well, painful - it is fatiguing and begins to wear at an individual emotionally. Over time it can bring with it a feeling of hopelessness and depression. It can limit what a person is able to do to support themselves financially. And it can keep people from actively associating with others leading to further isolation and depression.
It becomes vital therefore, to consider how one can manage the pain in such a way as to endure and yet maintain a quality of life that allows one to keep a positive and productive outlook.
Though it may seem counterintuitive one of the suggestions to relieving pain is to exercise. However, it is important to work with knowledgeable therapists who can develop a safe routine that will not aggravate the existing problem. Exercise works because it can help improve movement and reduce stiffness, it can help keep up the strength of muscles that will protect and support the affected joints and it can improve circulation which is beneficial for overall health. Add to that the bonus that it may reduce or control weight that adds stress to afflicted joints.
Proper rest is always important for the body to help restore itself. And it is thought that inflammation eases off when the body is able to achieve a restful stage.
Massage and hydrotherapy help to relieve stiffness in joints and both work to improve circulation. For some individuals that are very nearly crippled with arthritis they have found that being in a pool allows them the only real opportunity to have movement and exercise free from the stress on their sore joints. It can provide some very real blessed moments of relief.
Another area to be explored is the strength of one's perceptions. It has been noted that anxiety and uncertainty about what is happening in one's own body can accentuate the pain felt. This means that gaining a clear understanding of what is occurring and what can be done in the way of treatment can work to relieve some of the stress and thus some of the pain as well.
As has been shown time and again - a calm and positive outlook will produce a better reaction in the physical body over a bitter and negative one. But how to work at it? It will be up to each one to seek out positive activities and input that they enjoy. Focusing on things that are enjoyable and uplifting can go a long way in keeping one's mind from dwelling on the pain. Pain that is dwelt on seems to always increase. Granted, it may take a supreme effort to begin such a pattern of thinking but the reward of improving the quality of life that we have been given will always be worth it.
In the fight against the painful conditions brought on by arthritis there is a wide range of alternative and natural treatments that have come to the fore. These treatments are quite often used in conjunction with traditional therapies. Because the results vary and because there is sometimes a reluctance on the part of the medical community to recognize their effectiveness it is often left to each individual to research and seek to verify the validity of the results that may be claimed.
Keep in mind that there are strict regulations in place with regard to the claims that any treatment can make. Many promises are not backed up with scientific proof and there is a need to proceed cautiously. Because this disease can go into remission on its own for certain lengths of time there can be uncertainty as to the cause. Be sure to respect the therapeutic program and medications that you have worked out with your doctor.
Of valid concern as well is the need to coordinate with your doctor anything that could interact badly with the traditional medications that you may be taking. It is important to not take for granted that just because something is 'natural' that it could not cause any bad reaction.
Some tried therapies include: acupuncture, herbal and naturopathic medicine, homeopathy and massage therapy. Another - Ayurveda is a Hindu/Indian health based system and philosophy. These approaches take a holistic approach treating the whole person and endeavoring to correct any imbalance in their bodies. This is to effect an improvement in the body's ability to heal itself.
While conventional medicine has long taken a skeptical stance this is slowly changing. Some doctors and hospitals are now incorporating a blend of conventional and alternative. So whereas, a few years back, your doctor may have dismissed these treatments, he may now be more open to them. It still is the wisest course to coordinate your efforts with his.
Does diet and food affect arthritis? This is a hotly disputed question. Science has been slow to agree but everyone is unique and the possibility does exist which seems provable by personal testimonials that there is a definite connection. Science seems to find that the idea that some people do have allergic reactions to some foods - that these reactions could be felt in their joints.
Some evidence seems to find that fasting for short periods can help in that it works to suppress the immune system thus reducing the inflammatory activity for certain types of arthritis. But eating again can cause them to flare up. Some have suggested that following a fast with a vegetarian diet seems to help those with Rheumatoid Arthritis. However this should be supervised by a doctor or nutritionist that can see that you get a balanced diet. And keep in mind that this does not replace taking medications.
Beside good old fashioned exercise and weight control other non-standard therapies include: hypnosis and visualization, biofeedback, laughter, various gels and creams, the application of heat and cold, and a variety of vitamins and minerals that can also work to improve conditions in the body overall.
There is no end to the number of treatments and promises made. It may be difficult to navigate it all. Try to keep a sound, common sense approach and always try to work in conjunction with your health care professionals.
Living a Quality Life
Living with the constant pain of arthritis is a great challenge. No one can fully appreciate what you are going through. Even people who share a similar disease are unique in their circumstances and the pain they feel. So while others that love and care for you may be interested in supporting you in every way possible, it will ultimately be up to you to take control of, and manage, your own plan for maintaining a high quality of living and achieving an over all sense of well being.
This means thoughtfully considering all the avenues open to you to treat your type of arthritis and figuring out a plan of action that works for you. One that will not only get you relief from the pain and perhaps improvement in your health, but will also help you find the positive productivity you look for in life.
So right from the start you will need to play an interested and active role in your treatment. This begins by gaining as much knowledge about your type of arthritis as you can. Understanding what is exactly happening in your body will help you learn to fight the disease and its symptoms successfully. This is important given that your energy and other resources may be limited - you will need to make effective use of them.
In talking with your doctor or any health care professional be prepared to ask questions. Find out how the medications will interact with your body. What kind of progress can you reasonably expect to see? What kind of side effects are there? Are there additional treatments that might help mitigate side affects? (As an example some skin problems may need creams.) Every bit of information becomes part of your arsenal against arthritis.
Exercise should form part of your plan. Work out with a doctor or rheumatologist the type of exercise that will not hurt your joints but will rather help build your strength. Proper exercise can lift your spirits and improve the overall well being of your body with improved flexibility and circulation.
Be ready to communicate with others what your needs and limitations are. Some people are hesitant to speak to someone else about their problems or expectations. But by being matter-of-fact and straightforward you help others to know how to help you. You make them part of your team for better health. This will also help to prevent you from feeling frustrated and maybe a little isolated in your pain. Once others understand your circumstances it frees up some of the stress that is natural when you make this difficult adjustment in your life.
Remember to take a look around your home for ways to make things easier and alleviate pain. This might mean placing support bars in the bathroom for lifting. Or installing tubs that allow you to enter through a small door instead of having to step over the rim. Maybe there's a more comfortable style of bed or chair that will help you to rest and get up easier. Perhaps there's more user friendly tools for the kitchen or your work that can be researched on line.
And ultimately it is important to find fulfilling activities that occupy your heart and mind in a positive way. There is much to be said for seeking out positive companions and input that does so much to keep one focused on things other than the pain. All of these suggestions can help toward gaining and keeping a high quality of life despite this difficult disease.
Getting The Help You Need With Support Groups
A diagnosis of arthritis can be a devastating one for many people. It is disheartening to imagine how one's life may be about to change and then having to face the challenges ahead. Personal hopes and plans for the future will need to be adjusted or put aside for the time being. All of this can add to a feeling of discouragement and hopelessness.
It is important to understand that feeling this way is normal. And though no one can truly know what you are going through - what pain you may be experiencing or what your thoughts may be - there are others who can begin to empathize because they are being faced with similar challenges.
Several support groups have been formed on a community level to help meet the needs of arthritic patients. It has been observed that during the first few years after being diagnosed that patients go through some of the worst of their frustrations as they struggle to adjust to their new circumstances. These support groups can offer the aide of professionals that give first hand up-to-date news on the treatments and medications available to them.
They also provide the opportunity to sit and talk with others who are working through similar trials. And to find out that this disease does not discriminate as to age, class or race. This kind of interaction can give comfort and confidence that one is not alone and that there are many different ways to cope. Hopefully the result will be to help individuals begin to see past the disease and to have as a goal to be able to live as full a life as possible.
This may mean that initially you will need to set realistic goals. Be honest with yourself about what you can do. Often with arthritis it is vital not to over tire or cause your body undue stress. Support groups can help in that you will see others having made progress over time and will learn that its okay to be patient with your situation. They will also be able to give you tips on how to handle new situations that present themselves as you learn to work within your limitations.
And one of the wonderful things about the times we live in is that we can communicate with others on line any time of the day or night if we are feeling troubled or low in spirits. For individuals that may be shy about talking, or sensitive to their privacy, this may offer them the freedom to reach out to others on forums geared toward arthritic sufferers. Speaking openly about their worries and fears and finding empathy and support can do so much in helping to maintain a calm outlook. And without a doubt, a calm spirit can help the body's healing ability.
Finally, there may come a moment when you will feel able to reach out to help others. You will be their support. Your experience will benefit their struggle. And you may find that sometimes the best help we can give ourselves is to be active in helping others.
How To Care For Someone With Arthritis
Without a doubt, the individual that has received a diagnosis of arthritis is going to have their life change dramatically. They will be faced with a great many challenges and they deserve as much support and care as possible. But they will not be the only one faced with challenges and change. A new responsibility will fall upon those that may find themselves the primary caregivers.
The role of a caregiver can vary from case to case. Some individuals with arthritis may be able to cope fairly well and with only some adjustment in their daily routine. The situation of others may be far more difficult.
Initially it is important to get as much knowledge as possible about what type of arthritis your loved one has and become well informed as to the type of treatment they will be receiving and how it will affect them. If possible it would be helpful to be with them on their visits to the doctor as this will enable you to keep up to date on their progress and any adjustments they need to make. Often it is a blessing to have someone there who can help remember instructions or details that may go in one ear and out the other for the patient who is under stress.
The next important step is to have open and honest communication. This isn't always easy and may require a great deal of tact and patience. It is not easy to understand everything they are going through but you want them to know that you are trying to and that you intend to be there for them as much as possible. Studies have shown that people who have this disease fare better when they are not in stressful or negative situations.
But you're going to have them. Don't get too discouraged - this is only normal. As you try to adjust your life and help your companion remember that you will need to look out for yourself as well. To not get over tired and taxed. It may mean that you find a way to step back a little. Search out a support group that can empathize and give you ideas on how to mitigate the stressful times. And above all, try to maintain an honest approach whereby both you and the one you're caring for can move forward in a positive way.
On a practical note, the care you give may mean that you will be the one to run the errands more often. Or you may have to divide up the chores so that you take on the heavier ones. But it is important to keep in mind that your loved one needs to keep involved and active for their health as well, so it shouldn't mean that as a caregiver that you must now do everything. It just means a readjustment. Look for ways to make simple functions around the house a bit easier. Perhaps installing lifting bars in the bathroom, finding more comfortable furniture, or buying tools that are user friendly to arthritic persons.
Another fine area of support is to be a good listener. So much help can be given when a person can talk out their fears and anxieties. Be as straightforward and practical as you can be even though it is an emotional situation. This will help to maintain a positive and forward moving attitude that is essential to eventually achieving the best quality of life possible.
And remember - this is a learning process for both of you and you will have to give yourselves time to adjust.
Understanding that arthritis in all of its many manifestations can be a crippling and painful disease we may well ask ourselves what we can do to take preventative measures.
Since medical researchers seem to be at a loss to explain the exact cause of arthritis it may not appear to be possible to know how to prevent it. However, many health care professionals have analyzed the factors that go into contributing to the progress of arthritis and have come up with some very practical suggestions. Keep in mind the old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Some arthritis, such as oseteoarthritis evidences strain on the joints. So one of the first things to avoid is undue and repetitive stress on our joints. For instance, if you find that you begin experiencing some chronic pain from some activity - be it sports or work related - it is time to take it seriously and adjust your routine. Remember, the wear and tear that can result on stress bearing joints, such as the knee, can be caused by repetitive movements as well as heavy physical labor.
While guarding against over stressing your joints it has still been found that appropriate exercise can do the body a world of good. If we are too sedentary our muscles weaken and our joints become unprotected and thus susceptible to joint damage. Regular exercise also works to keep our joints more flexible. And incorporating some light weight training can actually work to build denser bones. Not to mention the wonderful benefits of improved circulation.
Another way to reduce stress on our joints is to manage our weight. And in watching our weight and what we eat we can bear in mind that, while some may hotly dispute whether or not foods play a role in aggravating arthritis, most agree that the type of fast food, chemically enhanced, nutrient lacking fodder that is a part of our modern world, is not good for building a healthier body. That by paying attention to whole, natural foods we can do much to avoid all manner of disease. And if indeed an individual finds that they notice a reaction to certain foods it would be wise to avoid these if possible. It has been acknowledged by some that in certain cases the destructive inflammation that can result in joints could be aggravated by these allergic reactions.
Learn to love water. Seventy percent of the cartilage in our joints is made up of water. So keeping our bodies properly hydrated can mean keeping our joints lubricated and in fine working order. Nowadays it is common to see people drinking a lot of coffee, tea and caffeine laden soft drinks. But these liquids act more like diuretics and can actually serve to dehydrate the body.
The key to preventing arthritis then is to start by being aware of your body and how you treat it in your daily routine. It comes down to common sense. Though we cannot control all the negative factors that may go into causing arthritis we can certainly take positive steps to avoid the things that are known to aggravate it. And while it may require a certain amount of discipline we have most assuredly come to understand that it is well worth it to improve our chances of having a quality of life that allows us to be productive and happy.