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Understanding arthritis

The word arthritis literally means inflammation of the joint (swelling). It is a word that is commonly used to describe several joint diseases. Most people use the word when referring to persistent joint and back problems.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis can affect any of the joints throughout the body, limiting movement and causing significant pain. Over time, it can deform joints, particularly in the hands and feet. Although arthritis can affect people of all ages, including children, it most commonly develops in adults aged 40 to 50 years. For some inexplicable reason, women are more likely to develop arthritis than men.

Arthritis is characterized by attacks, followed by periods where the disease appears inactive (remission). Attacks, much like remission periods, can last anywhere from a few days, to a few weeks, to a few months. Attacks are characterized by fatigue, joint stiffness (especially in the morning) and pain.

Only physicians can diagnose arthritis. Blood tests, x-rays and a variety of other examinations are performed to confirm the diagnosis. To control arthritis and prevent joint deformities, early and aggressive treatment is important.

What is the difference between arthritis and osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that does not cause inflammation. Of all the types of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most widespread in occurrence. The likelihood of developing osteoarthritis increases with age; in fact, 80% of people over 75 years of age suffer from osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis also causes the progressive degradation of the cartilage at the bone ends and where joints me. 

Are there any cures for arthritis?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. However, there are certain drugs that can help alleviate the pain and slow the progression of the disease, thereby preventing deformities and long-term complications associated with arthritis.

The most common medications for arthritis are anti-inflammatories. They control daily inflammation and relieve pain. However, it takes time for these drugs to have an effect. Furthermore, they must be taken regularly to be effective.

When there is persistent inflammation in several joints for several weeks, stronger medications may be necessary. Drugs known as slow-acting anti-rheumatic drugs can be combined with the anti-inflammatories. Slow-acting anti-rheumatic drugs slow down the biological processes responsible for chronic inflammation.

When dealing with an aggressive form of arthritis or one that has not responded to any of the above-mentioned treatments, biological response modifiers are required. These medications rapidly reduce arthritis symptoms as well as the inflammation responsible for deforming the joints. They are designed to suppress some of the functions of the immune system that cause rheumatoid arthritis. By suppressing these functions however, these drugs make one more susceptible to infections. 

During attacks, it is important that the affected joints not be immobilized. It is recommended that you engage in gentle exercise in an effort to maintain ease and range of motion. In addition to strengthening the muscles that surround and support joints, exercise increases blood flow to cartilage, bringing it the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and removing cellular waste. 

If you have any questions regarding arthritis, various treatments or the types of exercises that help to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis, consult your healthcare professional.

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