Arthritis: Causes, Risks, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis and several other rheumatic diseases are common conditions that result in swelling, pain, and also limited movement. They affect connective tissues and joints around the body. Millions of people around the world have some form of arthritis.
Arthritis refers to swelling (inflammation) and redness of a joint. A joint is where two or more bones meet. There are more than 100 different kinds of arthritic diseases. Rheumatic diseases include any condition that causes stiffness and pain, and swelling in joints, tendons, muscles, bones or ligaments. Arthritis is often ongoing (chronic).
What are the symptoms of Arthritis?
Arthritis and several other rheumatic diseases are more common in women when compared to men. These conditions are usually found in older people. But this could affect people of all ages.
The 2 most common reported forms of arthritis are:
● Rheumatoid arthritis. This is an autoimmune disease that results in inflammation in the joint linings. The inflammation might affect all the joints in the body. It can also affect organs like the lungs or heart.
● Osteoarthritis. This is the most common reported type of arthritis. It is a chronic disease that affects the joints, particularly the weight-bearing joints of the spine, hip, and knee. It destroys the padding on the ends of cartilage (bones) and also narrows the joint space. It may also result in bone spurs, reduced function and bone overgrowth. It occurs mostly in people as they start ageing. It may also occur in young people because of an injury or overuse.
Other forms of arthritis or related disorders include:
● Gout. This condition results in uric acid crystals to start building up in small joints, like the big toe. It causes inflammation and pain.
● Ankylosing spondylitis. This disease results in the bones of the spine to start fusing. It can also result in inflammation in several other parts of the body. It may affect the small joints of the hands and feet, the shoulders, ribs, and hips.
● Lupus. This is a type of chronic autoimmune disorder. It results in periods of inflammation and damage to tendons, joints, and other organs.
● Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) or Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA). This is a form of arthritis that mainly affects children and causes joint stiffness and inflammation. Children might have symptoms that could come and go. Or the condition might just go into full remission. Getting properly diagnosed and treated early can help prevent joint damage.
● Scleroderma. This autoimmune disease results in hardening and thickening of the skin and other connective tissue in the body.
What causes Arthritis?
The cause of arthritis generally depends on the type of arthritis affecting you. Osteoarthritis’ occurence is because of overuse of a joint or the result of the wear and tear of the joint over time. Scleroderma, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis are caused when the body’s immune system starts attacking the body’s own tissues. Gout is the result of the buildup of crystals in the joints. Few forms of arthritis can also be linked to genes. People with genetic marker HLA-B27 are at a greater risk for ankylosing spondylitis. For some other forms of arthritis, the cause is still unknown.
Who is at risk for Arthritis?
Some risk factors in regards with arthritis that can’t be changed include:
● Age - The older you get, the more likely you are to develop arthritis.
● Heredity - Certain types of arthritis can be linked to certain genes.
● Gender - Women are at higher risk of developing arthritis than men.
Risk factors that may be changed include:
● Injury - A joint that could have been damaged by an injury is more likely to develop arthritis at some point.
● Weight - Being obese or overweight could damage your knee joints. This can increase the chances of developing osteoarthritis.
● Your job - Work that involves repeated squatting or bending may lead to knee arthritis.
● Infection - Reactive arthritis might start to affect joints after an infection.
What are the symptoms of Arthritis?
Every individual's symptoms may vary. The most commonly reported symptoms include:
● Pain that tends to affect a single or several more joints, and that which keeps coming back, and that which doesn’t seem to go away.
● Redness and warmth in 1 or more joints.
● Stiffness in 1 or more joints.
● Swelling in 1 or more joints.
● Trouble moving 1 or more joints in a normal way.
These symptoms can look similar to several other health conditions. Always see your orthopaedist or doctor for a diagnosis.
How is Arthritis diagnosed?
Your orthopaedist will first take a look at your medical history and also recommend you a physical exam. Tests may also be conducted. These include blood tests like:
● Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test - This helps in checking antibody levels in the blood.
● Complete blood count (CBC) - This helps in checking if your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelet levels are normal.
● Creatinine - This test helps in checking for kidney disease.
● Sedimentation rate - This test helps in finding inflammation.
● Hematocrit - This test helps in measuring the number of red blood cells.
● CCP (cyclic citrullinated peptide) and RF (rheumatoid factor) and antibody tests. These can help in diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis.
● White blood cell count. This helps in checking the level of white blood cells in your blood.
● Uric acid. This helps in diagnosing gout.
Other tests may be done, such as:
● Joint aspiration (arthrocentesis) - A small sample of synovial fluid will be taken from the joint. This is tested to check if bacteria or crystals are present.
● X-rays or other imaging tests - These can help you by telling how damaged a joint is.
● Urine test - This helps in checking for protein and other kinds of blood cells.
● HLA tissue typing - This helps in looking for genetic markers of ankylosing spondylitis.
● Skin biopsy - Tiny tissue samples are first removed and then checked under a microscope. This test helps in diagnosing a type of arthritis that involves the skin, like lupus or psoriatic arthritis.
● Muscle biopsy - Tiny tissue samples are first removed and later checked under a microscope. This test helps in diagnosing conditions that affect muscles.
How is Arthritis treated?
Treatment mostly depends on your general health, symptoms, and your age. It can also depend on the type of arthritis you may be dealing with and how severe the condition is. A treatment plan is tailored to each person by their orthopaedist.
Although there is no known cure for arthritis currently, the aim of treatment is usually to limit inflammation and pain, and help in ensuring joint function. Treatment plans generally use both short-term and long-term methods.
Short-term treatments include:
● Medicines - Short-term relief for inflammation and pain can include several types of pain relievers.
● Heat and cold - Pain can be eased by using moist heat (shower or warm bath) or even dry heat (heating pad) on the joint. Or with a cold (ice pack wrapped inside a thin towel) on the joint.
● Joint immobilisation - Using a brace or splint can help in resting a joint and also protect it from more injury.
● Massage - Lightly massaging the painful muscles may help in increasing blood flow and bringing warmth to the muscle.
● Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) - Pain may be eased using a TENS device. This device sends mild, electrical pulses to the nerve endings in the painful area. This helps by blocking pain signals to the brain and in turn changes how you feel pain.
● Acupuncture - Thin needles are inserted at specific points in the body. It can help in releasing natural pain-relieving chemicals made by the nervous system. The procedure is done by a licensed orthopaedist or doctor.
Long-term treatments include:
● Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) - These prescription medicines can help in slowing down the disease and in treating any kind of immune system problems that are linked to the disease.
● Corticosteroids - Corticosteroids help in reducing swelling and inflammation.
● Hyaluronic acid therapy This is a joint fluid that seems to break down in people dealing with osteoarthritis. It can be injected into a joint like the knee in order to help ease symptoms.
● Surgery. There are several types of surgery, depending on which joints have been affected. Surgery can include joint replacement, arthroscopy, or fusion. Full recovery after a successful surgery could take up to 6 months. Starting a rehabilitation program after surgery is a crucial part of the treatment.
It is best if you can detect the symptoms early and start treatment to avoid severe damage, pain and discomfort. If you’d like to know the best tips to follow if you're dealing with arthritis, or would be interested to know how our expert orthopaedics at 1 Health Medical Centre can help you in your journey please call on +91 9562090606 to book an appointment.
If you are dealing with pain related to Arthritis, or if you are worried about developing it, especially if you’re obese or overweight, our team of experienced Rheumatologists at 1 Health Medical Centre can help you get through your suffering.
Stop procrastinating and get started on your journey to achieving a healthier weight and better overall health. Call 1 Health Medical Centre, today!