Arthritis derived its name from the Greek term arthron which means joint and the Latin term itis, which means inflammation. The literal meaning obviously means pain in the joints. We usually associate arthritis with osteoarthritis since more and more elderly people are being diagnosed with the disease in their late sixties. Truth is, arthritis comes in many forms and most are functionally debilitating. We are prone to this disease when one or two of the following components of our joints experience abnormalities:
- The bone that forms the joint.
- Ligaments that holds together the ends of the bones and also form the joint cavity. Its other function is to help the bone from moving beyond their limits.
- The cartilage that covers the end of the bones that prevents them from rubbing against each other.
- The synovial fluid that fills the joint cavity. It is secreted by the synovium that is found in the joint cavity lining and aids in lubricating the joint.
Arthritis has many causes. It could be the natural wear and tear of our cartilage, infections, deficiency in the synovial fluid and in some cases, autoimmunity. There is no single cure for arthritis but following the doctor’s prescription and lifestyle changes dramatically increase the patient’s quality of life. The following are some familiar types of arthritis:
Our immune system has antibodies designed to protect us from infections. However people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis do not have this kind of defense because their own immune system attacks their joint’s synovium, mistaking it for a foreign body. This autoimmune disease is considered systemic since it affects the body’s other organs instead of being only localized in the infected joint. Common symptoms include low fever, fatigue, anemia followed by the swelling of the joints in the hands and knees. The inflammation is associated with the overproduction of synovium fluid and the joints appear reddish and usually warm to the touch. In the long run, patients suffer muscle and tendon atrophy rendering them functionally disable. Also, the deterioration of the cartilage and low calcium level causes the bones to deform and the abnormal growth sometimes even fuse the ends of the bones together making them permanently stiff. Research shows that genetics and environmental factors trigger rheumatoid arthritis but unfortunately, science has yet to come up with a cure. Only early diagnosis and aggressive treatment mitigate the severity of organ destruction. Before giving medication, doctors perform a series of physical exams to check for lumps, order X-rays to verify bone loss, and check if the white blood cells are of normal level. Exercise and healthy diet also improves the chances of fighting off this disease.
Osteoarthritis has two types- primary, which is associated with aging and secondary, usually attributed to injury, overexertion or weight gain early on in life. In both cases, the joints in hips, knees, spine, hands and shoulders experience pain due to cartilage deterioration. Common symptoms include pain and stiffness upon waking up in the morning or after prolonged physical inactivity. Osteoarthritis causes some parts of the bone to reduce bone production while over some parts has abnormal bone tissue growth. Physically, people suffering from osteoarthritis experience limited range of motion and their joints appear enlarged. For elderly people, the overgrowth causes sciatica as the extra bones press on their spine’s nerve trunks.
There is currently no treatment against osteoarthritis however, there are a lot of medications and surgical procedures that can effectively help people regain their mobility. Inflammation can be controlled through pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Joint replacement surgery is performed for extreme cases. Another effective way to fight osteoarthritis is through physical activity. This not only increases bone strength, it also helps in losing weight and promote blood circulation. Remember, for every pound you lose, you relieve your knee joints four pounds of burden.
Gout occurs when our bodies have a hard time eliminating excess uric acid. The extra uric acid is transformed into urate crystals that is deposited in our tissues and joints, causing arthritis. The inflammation is extremely painful and is characterized by enlarged joints and reddish skin over the joints, particularly on the big toes. If left undiagnosed, gout can destroy the joints and lead to kidney failure. Men are more prone to acquire gout than women and are likely to manifest this disease at the onset of puberty. Research shows that heavy alcohol intake, obesity, diuretic medication, lymphoma and leukemia increases the level of uric acid in our bodies. Arthrocentesis is a common method in diagnosing gout and certain analgesics can help alleviate the pain or lower the uric acid in our bodies. Other long term solutions involve weight loss, avoidance of alcohol and purine-rich food and proper hydration.