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This first article in this month’s Arthritis Series provides an overview of what arthritis is and how it can be managed
The physical connection between two or more bones is referred to as a joint.  The human body has over 200 bones meaning that we have lots and lots of joints.  Joints are often surrounded by muscle (such as the thigh and leg muscles that surround the knee joint) to allow for movement.  Since constant contact between two bones would cause structural damage to the bone, joints that bear a lot of weight (such as the knee or joints of the spine) also contain a lubricating fluid (synovial fluid) to reduce friction.  Most people don’t really think about their joints when they do things like climb a set of stairs or check their Facebook.  Individuals with arthritis, however, are constantly reminded of just how important their joints are for everyday life.

Greek for joint inflammation, arthritis can be a painful and incapacitating condition that can make otherwise simple tasks such as walking or typing very difficult and very painful. Some indicators of joint inflammation include redness, burning, swelling, stiffness, and pain. If this describes you, you may be one of the nearly 4.5 million Canadians who suffer from some form of arthritis.  However, arthritis doesn’t have to stop you from living your life! You can become an active agent in your health care by becoming informed about your condition and getting involved and exploring treatment options.

Getting Informed – Types of Arthritis

There are over 100 types of arthritis that can be considered inflammatory or degenerative (although degenerating joints are likely to have some inflammation). The types of arthritis that will be explored in this series of articles are rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout.

Inflammatory arthritis occurs when the thin layer of tissue that lines the joint is attacked by the immune system because it is recognized as a ‘foreign invader’ by the body (scientists aren’t sure exactly why this happens).  Inflammatory arthritis is characterized by joint pain and stiffness that will often spread to other areas. Those suffering from inflammatory arthritis frequently experience fatigue, weight loss, muscle pain, numbness and tingling in the fingers, a light fever and joint pain and stiffness after rest. Recent research suggests that inflammatory arthritis can also cause bone loss.  Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, affecting 1%-2% of the world’s population.

 

Degenerative arthritis involves the breakdown of the joint, causing the wearing away of the cartilage and the thickening of the bone. Typically, sufferers of degenerative joint disease experience stiffness in the morning, with worsening of pain and related symptoms as the day progresses.  Osteoarthritis is the most common form of degenerative arthritis.

Arthritis in Real Life

Simply put, arthritis is the inflammation of a joint, typically characterized by pain, swelling, and stiffness, as a result of degenerative changes, infection, trauma, metabolic disturbances, or a variety of other causes. And yet, arthritis is not simple. Research indicates that patients with chronic arthritis experience some of the poorest levels of health-related quality of life and arthritis remains one of the leading causes of disability in developed countries. Those confronted with the challenges of the disease often endure debilitating symptoms that interfere with their daily lives from limiting the ability to garden; or complicating playing a long loved instrument.

Existing and Future Options

Striking mostly in mid-life, arthritis has become one of the most expensive medical conditions to treat. However, early and aggressive intervention can help reduce one’s pain, limitations, and restrictions, as well as minimize the costs associated with managing the condition.

Investigation of arthritis symptoms began in the 1960’s, with a notable expansion of treatment options within the past 15 years.  Generally, doctors prescribe lighter medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, to treat initial signs of arthritis.  As the condition worsens, doctors typically administer stronger medications, including methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, and leflunomide.  A community of clinical researchers, physicians, and arthritis sufferers continue to work to develop appropriate treatment options to ensure that living with arthritis does not take away from your quality of life.

Getting Involved

Patient education and engagement remain essential in the road to recovery. The more you know, the more involved you can be in your health care. Partaking in arthritis education courses improves knowledge of the disease and ways to self-manage the condition.

Getting involved in your health care is not only a step towards recovery or the quality of life that you deserve, but it is also the first step to implicating yourself in public decisions that affect you in all areas of your life, whether in the workplace, at home, or at play. Decisions that affect your life as a person living with arthritis are being made constantly; it is only fair that you are an integral part of the process.

The Arthritis Society delineates the following five strategies for fighting arthritis: 1) get educated about your arthritis and available treatment options, 2) stay involved in your health care and upcoming decisions in the field, 3) know the resources and supports available to you, 4) stay healthy by eating well and engaging in exercise, and 5) be informed and inform your physician about all of the medications you are using.

For more information please visit the Arthritis Society at:

www.Arthritis.ca 

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