Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not a disease reserved strictly for the elderly. In fact, this disease represents a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases and conditions capable of affecting people of all ages. Approximately 66% of cases of arthritis are found in those under the age of 65 while 300,000 cases are actually found in children. More than 50 million Americans suffer with this condition; more than 36 million are Caucasian; more than 4.6 million are African-American; and 2.9 million are Hispanic.
Risk Factors and Causes
The cause of arthritis is unknown and risk factors vary depending on the type of arthritis. For example, risk factors for osteoarthritis include wear and tear, aging, and heredity. However, controllable factors include obesity, muscle weakness, and overuse of joints. Risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis include: infection, hormones, and heredity, but these cannot be controlled. Each type of arthritis results from different risk factors and lifestyle choices.
Osteoarthritis can happen in any joint. Symptoms include: stiffness, soreness, and difficulty moving one or more joints after periods of activity or periods of rest. In the hip joints, it may cause pain when walking in the groin, buttocks, and/or inner thigh, causing a limp. In the knees, pain worsens when using stairs or when standing from a seated position. In the fingers, pain and swelling of the joints may make writing and picking up small items difficult. Rheumatoid arthritis can develop in any joint as well, but it most often starts in the wrists, hands, and fingers.
Medical exams, x-rays, and blood tests are used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid factors (RF) are often present in the blood and assist with diagnosis. X-rays are used to diagnose osteoporosis, as they show destruction of cartilage and joint tissues. Joint aspiration, or using a needle to sample fluid from around the joint, are sometimes ordered to rule out other forms of arthritis and cancer.
There are many types of arthritis, but the most common are: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. Osteoarthritis, the most common form, is a progressive degenerative joint disease that breaks down joint cartilage. Rheumatoid arthritis is systemic and inflames the membranes lining the joints causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. Juvenile arthritis refers to inflammatory and autoimmune conditions in children under the age of 16. Psoriatic arthritis refers to inflammation of the skin and joints, resulting in psoriasis.
The prognosis for patients with arthritis varies from person to person. The best outcomes are seen in those who get early diagnosis, follow their treatment plan, and take steps to ensure they are taking care of themselves properly.
Though there is no surefire way to cure or prevent arthritis, patients can do certain things to reduce the frequency of flare-ups and the intensity of symptoms. Each type of arthritis has its own specific guidelines and recommendations for how to manage symptoms. The following tips can be helpful in managing arthritis regardless of type:
- Eat a healthy diet that includes less sugar, salt, and fat with more produce and whole grains. The nutrients from the fruits and vegetables will help your body operate more efficiently.
- Get enough sleep and rest when you feel it necessary.
- Maintain a healthy weight, obesity is a significant factor in the development of arthritis
- Exercise regularly, as recommended by your doctor. Always talk to your doctor before you start exercising, as certain activities can make the problem worse.
Exercise may seem counter intuitive for arthritis, however, a regular routine is important. Exercise that focuses on flexibility, strength training, and aerobics can reduce joint pain and stiffness. Regular exercise helps build stronger muscle around the joint plus it helps prevent heart disease, decreases depression, and lifts self-esteem.
Low impact workouts are best. Many gyms have classes designed specifically for those who suffer from arthritis. Exercises that can help those who suffer from arthritis include: water exercises, walking, golf, or yoga.
In addition to these tips, take steps to prevent injury to joints. This is especially important because having arthritis increases the risk of bone fracture. Follow all safety guidelines when exercising, working, or driving and wear proper footwear.
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