What is arthritis? Arthritis comes from the Greek words arthro (“joint”) and itis (“inflammation”). Arthritis is not a single medical condition but include a group of over 100 diseases that causes inflammation in the joints, leading to joint swelling, stiffness and pain. Joint inflammation is characterized with the presence of redness, swelling, tenderness, heat and pain. Thus technically speaking, symptoms of arthritis-related joint problems include inflammation, pain and stiffness which can lead to joint weakness or visible deformities if not treated early.
Though arthritis usually affect the area in or around joints, it can also cause damage to other tissue and bodily organs including the skin, eyes, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, muscles, respiratory passages and blood vessels. Arthritis is usually chronic and can affect your movements in your daily tasks such as brushing your teeth, washing dishes or climbing the stairs.
Arthritis develops gradually and initially several people do not report any symptoms of arthritis during the course of its development. Though arthritis usually affects men and women of all ages, it can also affect children at a very young age. Injury to a joint in childhood may predispose them to develop arthritis later in their life.
Basically, arthritis can be divided into 4 main categories:
1. Inflammatory arthritis
- Swelling of the soft tissues around a joint
- Joint stiffness will be experienced in the morning that last more than an hour
- Inflammatory arthritis can be short term known as gout or chronic such as rheumatoid arthritis
2. Non- Inflammatory
- The cartilage that cushions the bones starts to break down
- When the bones rub together, pain is experienced
- Joint stiffness usually occurs either after exercise or at rest state
- Osteoarthritis is the most popular known form of non-inflammatory arthritis
- As the terms implied, some forms of arthritis are triggered by viral, fungal or bacterial infection. (For example: septic arthritis)
4. Hemorrhagic Arthritis
- Happens when the blood gets into the joint which leads to inflammation.
- Some of the common conditions that lead to this form of arthritis include trauma, hemophilia, sickle cell disease, and pigmented villonodular synovitis.
How Common Is Arthritis
It is stated that an estimated 50 million population of adults in the US are diagnosed patients of different forms of arthritis. This is anticipated to go up to approximately 65 million by the year of 2020. Out of these, almost 24 million women of all ages are suffered from arthritis. In UK, arthritis is considered to be the leading cause of disability and pain affecting 10 million people. Out of these 9 million people have osteoarthritis and 700,000 have rheumatoid arthritis in UK.
Arthritis not only affects adults but it also affects almost 300,000 children worldwide, a great number of pregnant women and sports persons. It occurs in all ethnic groups and races, affecting people from all walks of life, devoid of their age, sex, or social backgrounds. The disease frequently starts in prime of life and occurs with high incidence in older people. Generally, women are affected more with arthritis as compared to men. Till now, studies revealed that the risk of familial recurrence in arthritis is little in comparison with other autoimmune related disorders or diseases. Besides that, certain environmental factors also play a role in causing this inflammatory joint problem.
How Healthy Joints Work?
To gain a better and deeper understanding on what is arthritis and its causes, it is helpful to know how a healthy joint system should work. Joints are composed of bone, muscles, synovial fluid, bursa, ligaments and cartilage. They’re intended to let the body to move and bear weight.
Muscles: Muscles are elastic tissues that lie close to the joints which enable us to perform joint movements. Muscles give the force to the bones so that they can perform different functions.
Bursa: It surrounds the joint. It is a fluid-filled sack that offers buffering at the site where friction is present between joints and the skin, between the two bones, and between a bone and a tendon.
Synovial fluid: It is a clear, viscous fluid produced by the membranes in bursae, tendon sheaths and joint cavities, and functions to provide lubrication between the joints. It remains within the cartilage when joints are not working and only appears into the joint space as the joints move.
Ligaments: Ligaments are the fibrous tissues that hold the bones together and keep the joint stable. A ligament serves as a capsule or an outer covering of the joints which helps to hold the bones in the proper alignment.
Cartilage: These are the connective tissues that covered the ends of bones where bones meet with the joints. They protect the bones by serving as a tough cover. They also function as a shock absorber.
Tendons: These are another type of fibrous tissues that attach the bone to the muscles. They are inelastic and move along with the muscles.
The joint is a mechanism which is designed to connect two or more bones together, holding them in place while allowing range of motion. The joint is lined by a thin film tissue known synovium that produces a slippery fluid called synovial fluid. Bones are connected to each other by ligaments and the muscles are connected to the bones by tendons. At the end of each bone, it is covered with a smooth, elastic material called cartilage.
Both cartilage and synovial fluid play an important role in a healthy joint. The cartilage is present as a cushion material which enables smooth movements and protects the joint from strain or pressure. The synovial fluid provides the nutrients that the cartilage needs to renew itself and filters out the debris when the surface layers of cartilage are worn away. When the cartilage tears within a joint, friction occurs between the bones.
As such, this leads to pain, stiffness, inflammation and swelling of the joints, resulting in arthritis. Maintaining healthy joints is therefore very important as it helps to reduce the chance of getting arthritis. This can be achieved by consuming a well-balanced diet, getting sufficient sleep, avoiding injuries and over-strenuous physical activities.
However, as a matter of fact, aging is an unavoidable phase of in life and as one grows old, the joints get affected too. With increasing age, the cartilage gets vanished, predisposing the bones to undergo a number of changes. The bones in an attempt to tackle these changes bring about an immune cells response that entails inflammation. This inflammatory response in the joints is the consequences of the activation of different inflammatory mediators and enzymes such as lipoxygenase (LOX) and cyclooxygenase (COX). Various other factors can set off these mediators and enzymes such as being overweight, oxidative damage and toxic free radicals in addition to normal aging.
Causes Of Arthritis
Generally, which types of arthritis you have depends largely on what went wrong with the joints.
1. Wear and tear of the bones and cartilage in a joint
2. Chronic inflammation of soft tissues around a joint
3. Infection in a joint
4. Genetic predisposition
5. Accumulation of crystals in a joint
The Common Types Of Arthritis
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Juvenile arthritis
• Infectious arthritis (septic arthritic)
• Ankylosing Spondylitis
• Polymyalgia rheumatic
• Localized soft-tissue disorders
• Lower back pain
• Carpal tunnel syndrome
• Psoriatic Arthritis
• Bursitis / Tendinitis
• Lyme Disease
• Sjogren’s Syndrome
• Reactive Arthritis
What Is The Negative Impact Of Arthritis?
Regardless of conventional treatment, arthritis leads to many detrimental consequences in one’s daily life. In fact, arthritis patients’ experience constant pain, fatigue, functional disability, depression and despair. Since arthritis is a chronic condition, its impact can be judged in terms of the effects on quality of life, body health status and mental health of the patient.
• Physical Impact of Arthritis
When joints are inflamed, painful and swollen, a person cannot move them properly. The biggest impact of arthritis is on the motion and range of movement of the joints. If it is not treated, it may leads to disability. In order to live normally with arthritis, patients will need to incorporate modifications to their home or assistive devices in performing routine tasks.
• Emotional Impact Of Arthritis
The ability to carry out core activities of daily life is vital for independent living. However, arthritis patients may experience difficulties in performing such activities and become dependent on others. Hence, this erodes their self-esteem and ultimately leads to emotional disturbance which is exhibited in their anger, fear, and rage. These emotions can have a detrimental outcome on their relationships. All this and the discomfort, deformity and pain of their arthritis create great chaos in their lives.
• Psychological Manifestations Of Arthritis
So what is arthritis effect on the mind of the people suffering from it? People with arthritis suffer an average of 5 mentally unhealthy days each month. Since it is a chronic progressive condition, it may cause significant depression and social isolation. Depression and anxiety are often associated with fatigue and restlessness. Pain, deformity and disability inexorably influence psychological status as well as the usual well-being of such patients.
Can Arthritis Be Cured?
Arthritis is so common that many people have a misconception that it can be cured. However, the truth is currently, there is no curable treatment of arthritis. Only early diagnosis and treatment can help alleviate symptoms of arthritis and slow down the progression of joints damage and deformity.
You still can lead normal live by playing an active role in taking control of the disease. Today, a lot of treatment options are available to you, from drug medications, surgery, occupational or physical therapies. Some complimentary treatments like Yoga, Acupuncture, Aromatherapy, Tai Chi and herbal medicine are also getting popular. The benefits of these treatments help in improving joint function, reducing pain and hold-up the need for any joint surgery in advanced cases.
Though arthritis is manageable, the pain and discomfort can interfere with your daily work or domestic activities. As such, you may need to make some adjustments either to your environment or by using arthritis aids or equipments.
As arthritis is a chronic condition, you need to be honest with the doctor on how arthritis has affected your personal life and emotional well-being. Only by actively participate in decisions of your arthritis care and gaining knowledge on “what is arthritis”, you can then enjoy your living with arthritis.
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