Arthritis Threat Goes Beyond Nagging Aches and Pains
Arthritis is the nation’s leading cause of disability, affecting about 50 million adults and 300,000 children. Arthritis is a complex family of more than 100 diseases and conditions that affect joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues.
The term “rheumatism” is often used as a catch-all term to describe joint and muscle pain. Research is ongoing to determine what causes these various musculoskeletal diseases. While arthritic conditions generally are not curable, treatment can help symptoms reduce or disappear. Treatments may include physical therapy, a prescribed exercise regimen, weight control and medications. These interventions can help sufferers manage the pain, minimize joint damage and maintain a quality of life. In some severe cases, joint replacements are performed in surgical procedures.
The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. This condition is characterized by a progressive degeneration of the joint bone and cartilage, and sometimes an overgrowth of bone. Osteoarthritis causes pain and stiffness in the joints and surrounding tissue. It occurs most frequently in the knees, hips, hands and spine. While the normal wear-and-tear of aging is linked to osteoarthritis, other risk factors include having a history of joint injuries and being overweight.
One of the most serious forms the disease is rheumatoid arthritis. This disease causes the body’s immune system to attack the thin membranes that line the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis causes joint pain and inflammation that can be systemic, which means it affects the entire body. Extreme fatigue and, over time, organ damage and immobility can result. Scientists believe both environmental and genetic factors may play a role in rheumatoid arthritis. The disease typically develops between the ages of 30 to 60, and affects women three times as often as it does men.
When arthritis develops in children 16 and younger, it’s called juvenile arthritis—an umbrella term for the many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that young patients suffer. The most common form is juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which is diagnosed when children or adolescents have swelling in one or more joints for at least six weeks.
If you are experiencing any of these common signs and symptoms, you should get a medical checkup to determine if arthritis is the problem or if other medical issues exist:
- Swelling in one or more joints
- Joint stiffness lasting at least one hour, particularly in the early morning
- Joint pain or tenderness that’s persistent or recurring
- Difficulty moving or using joints in everyday activities
- Redness or a feeling of warmth in or around a joint
To diagnose different forms of arthritis, your doctor will take a medical history and do a clinical examination that includes the joints and skin. Blood tests can be used to identify certain antibodies and other disease markers, and X-rays and other imaging tests can evaluate the health of joints and bones.
May is National Arthritis Awareness Month, sponsored by the nonprofit Arthritis Foundation. Activities are planned to raise awareness of arthritic conditions and encourage support for more research to develop better treatments and prevention measures. To learn more about arthritis, visit the Arthritis Foundation’s website, www.arthritis.org. To contact St. James Parish Hospital or get a number for the hospital’s family physician clinics, call 225.869.5512. This article provided courtesy of St. James Parish Hospital and Quorum Health Resources, LLC (QHR).
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