As the Baby Boomer generation ages, more and more people are being affected by the debilitating effects of arthritis. But, boomers are not the only ones suffering from this misunderstood disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, estimates that more than 52 million adults in the USA have been diagnosed with one form of arthritis or another, and that staggering number is on the rise.
What is arthritis?
The term arthritis refers to pain in the joints, and is actually used to describe at least 100 different conditions. Ankylosing spondylitis, for instance, is an arthritic condition that affects the joints of the spine, whereas Paget’s disease affects the hips and pelvic joints. Gouty metabolic arthritis causes unrelenting pain in the feet and toes. Polymyalgia rheumatica causes widespread arthritic symptoms throughout the body. Lupus, Lyme disease, and osteoarthritis are other relatively common forms of the potentially crippling disease.
There are as many causes of arthritis as there are forms of the disease. Certain forms of osteoarthritis are caused by wear and tear on the joints and are commonly diagnosed in older adults. Rheumatoid forms of arthritis seem to be caused by a malfunction of the immune system, but at this point, how this happens is not exactly known.
Infectious arthritis occurs when a virus, bacterium, or fungus invades one or more joints, causing painful inflammation. Organisms commonly associated with infectious arthritis include, but are not limited to, salmonella, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and blood-borne hepatitis C.
Who gets arthritis?
The commonest form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, occurs when cushioning cartilage that normally covers bone ends erodes away. When this happens, bone rubs against bone, causing swelling, stiffness, and plenty of pain. Given enough time, joints affected by degenerative osteoarthritis become weakened, and so does the person who has the condition.
Kids can get arthritis, too. According to the Arthritis Foundation, one in 1,000 American children has some form of arthritis. The most severe of these is called Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, or JRA. This polyarticular autoimmune disorder is systemic, able to cause more than just awful joint pain. JRA can adversely affect the eyes and other bodily organs, as well.
In adults, risk factors for arthritis include age, previous injury, excessive weight, and family history. The cause of systemic arthritis is children is not yet fully understood.
Is there a cure for arthritis?
At the time of this writing, there is no sure cure for arthritis. Infectious arthritis may be stopped in its tracks by intensive treatment with strong antibiotics, but sometimes the disease becomes chronic despite medical intervention.
Joint replacement, joint repair, and joint fusion are major surgeries that offer hope to persons with intractable arthritis pain. Damaged joints, such as hips and knees, may be replaced by the best orthopedic surgeons in the country. Many seniors who undergo successful joint replacement go on to lead healthy, active lives.
Treatment options for arthritis sufferers
The CDC notes that an overweight person who sheds a mere 11 pounds may significantly reduce their risk for joint-damaging osteoarthritis. The Arthritis Foundation recommends a multifaceted approach to arthritis treatment. Alternating periods of regular physical activity with periods of rest helps many people deal with chronic arthritis pain. When arthritis pain precludes vigorous exercise, gentle movements such as tai chi and hatha yoga are generally better than no exercise at all. Hot and cold therapies may be of benefit, as well. Muscle-strengthening exercises can stabilize knee joints and lessen arthritis symptoms, as can the avoidance of repetitive motion.
Medications available to arthritis patients range from over-the-counter analgesics to prescription pain relievers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil, Motrin IB, and naproxen sodium are commonly recommended to arthritis patients. Genetically engineered biologic medications such as etanercept (Enbrel) and infliximab (Remicade) promise joint relief to arthritis sufferers, too. Other arthritis medications include a malaria treatment called plaquinil and injections of gold salts, or methotrexate.
Ointments and creams containing capsaicin from hot peppers and/or menthol offer rubbed-on relief to many, but caution must be used to avoid getting this counter-irritating treatment into the eyes or mucus membranes. Corticosteroids including prednisone and cortisone reduce inflammation while suppressing the immune system. Corticosteroids are sometimes injected directly into the affected joint.
If you suffer with painful joints, you are certainly not alone. Some normal joint pain may be expected after a strenuous workout, but joint pain that lasts for more than a few days should be checked out by your family physician.
Connor Sheppard works in the eldercare industry and has a background in medicine. He enjoys writing about healthcare topics, both industry news and tips to help patients in pain.