As our bodies age, our joints become less and less durable, and we become more at risk for arthritis, a painful condition affecting joints. To delay the onset and to manage the pain of arthritis, it’s important to be aware of the types, risk factors and treatments of this condition.
Types of arthritis
There are two main types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage in the joint is worn down, causing the bones to grind directly on each other. This lack of cartilage is usually due to years of wear and tear on the joints; however, joint injury and infection can speed up the process.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks joints and inflames the synovium—a thin membrane that lines the joint capsule and secretes synovial fluid, which lubricates the joint (think WD-40 on a squeaky hinge). The inflamed synovium causes swelling, redness and pain, and over time, rheumatoid arthritis can cause deformity by destroying both cartilage and bone within the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis has also been known to affect the eyes and lungs—be sure to talk to your doctor about these risks so early diagnosis and treatment is possible.
The treatment of arthritis often involves the combination of medication and therapy, customized to fit your needs. Surgery can be used to treat arthritis, but is generally reserved for more extreme cases. Alternative medicine also is an option, including acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a therapy that involves mild electrical pulses to stimulate nerves near the aching joint, interfering with the transmission of pain signals to the brain.
Two popular nutritional supplements used to treat arthritis are glucosamine and chondroitin. Glucosamine is a natural component of joint cartilage, while chondroitin is a natural component of human connective tissues. Supplements are often found combining these two components to help slow the deterioration of cartilage, relieve osteoarthritis pain, reduce inflammation and improve joint function and mobility. A recent study found that this combination supplement is more effective in those with moderate-to-severe arthritis than those with mild symptoms.
While there is no way to prevent arthritis, doctors recommend maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly to help reduce your risk.
Compiled from information provided by The Arthritis Foundation, www.arthritis.org.
did you KNOW?
Arthritis and heart disease often occur simultaneously. A recent study found that arthritis affects 57 percent of adults with heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis is as much a risk factor for heart disease as cholesterol.
—The Arthritis Foundation, www.arthritis.org
Arthritis is a universal condition—it can affect anyone and everyone. However, the following risk factors increase the chances of developing arthritis:
- Family history. Genes do not cause arthritis, but family history can indicate vulnerability.
- Age. Risk of arthritis increases with age, as years of wear and tear to your joints add up.
- Gender. Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis, though men are more commonly diagnosed with gout, a condition that causes arthritis.
- Previous joint injury. Those who have injured a joint in the past are more likely to develop arthritis in that joint.
- Obesity. Carrying excess weight puts stress on joints, particularly the knees, hips and spine.
The Arthritis Foundation has partnered with dozens of Atlanta-area locations to offer classes that help those who suffer from arthritis cope with the pain. Classes include: aquatics, exercise, self-help and tai chi. To download a complete list of locations by county, visit www.arthritis.org/chapters/georgia/programs.php.