You may have thought that arthritis is just an old person’s disease, but the condition affects women and men of all ages. Arthritis, which means joint inflammation, consists of more than 100 conditions, ranging from relatively mild forms of tendinitis and bursitis to crippling systemic forms, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia. Osteoarthritis, is the most common form of arthritis, affecting about 3 million Canadians, according to The Arthritis Society.
Causes The cause of arthritis is unknown, but researchers now believe that the key risk factors for osteoarthritis include heredity, excess weight, injury and joint damage from another type of arthritis. Canadian researchers have identified some of the enzymes that damage the cartilage in cases of osteoarthritis. Blocking these enzymes may be one way to slow the progression of the disease.
Symptoms Joint and musculoskeletal pain — often the result of inflammation of the joint lining — are common symptoms. Signs of inflammation also include redness, swelling, heat and pain.
Diagnosis/tests It will depend on the type of arthritis you appear to have but your doctor may recommend lab tests to analyze your blood and joint fluid; an X-ray to check your bones or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to examine soft tissues such as cartilage. She may also insert an arthroscope, a small tube through an incision near your joint; images of the joint can then be sent to a video screen for viewing. You may be referred to a rheumatologist for testing and diagnosis.
Treatment Most forms of arthritis have treatment options. These therapies typically work best when started early in the disease process, making an early diagnosis important.
• Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, can provide relief for mild to moderate osteoarthritis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce pain and swelling of the joints and decrease stiffness. Corticosteroid injections reduce inflammation and swelling in cases in which mobility is affected.
• Exercise When the muscles and tissues that hold the joints together are not moved enough, they weaken, resulting in a loss of function. Moderate stretching and low-impact activities, such as swimming, eases symptoms and can slow damage to joints.
• Hot and cold Applying heat to a sore joint can minimize pain, stiffness and muscle spasm by promoting blood circulation. Applying cold to inflamed joints also reduces pain and swelling by constricting blood flow.
Prevention There’s no single way to prevent arthritis however regular exercise can decrease pain, increase your flexibility and help keep your joints healthy. And consuming a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, for example, may also help minimize joint stiffness in arthritis sufferers. Since obesity is a risk factor for arthritis, losing weight if necessary and maintaining a healthy weight, to prevent any additional stress on the joints, may also help lower your risk. Osteoporosis can also increase the risk of developing arthritis so getting enough calcium and vitamin D is important for prevention.
The Arthritis Society of Canada