Arthritis: Symptoms and Care

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Arthritis is one of the most common diseases in the US. Millions of adults and half of all people age 65 and older are troubled by this disease.

Arthritis is best known as a condition of painful, stiff joints. In fact, there are a variety of symptoms. Most arthritis is chronic, with symptoms lasting years. Arthritis can attack joints in almost any part of the body. The primary forms of arthritis cause changes you can see and feel such as pain, swelling, warmth and redness in your joints.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis in older people. OA starts when cartilage, the tissue that pads bones in the joint, begins to wear away. You are most likely to have OA in your hands, neck, lower back, or the large weight-bearing joints of your body, such as knees and hips. OA symptoms can range from stiffness and mild intermittent pain with activities like walking, bending, or stooping to severe joint pain that persists even when you are at rest. In time OA can cause disability if your back, knees, or hips are affected. OA is primarily an age-related condition and may be hereditary. OA in the knees may be aggravated by weight. Injuries or overuse may cause OA in joints such as knees, hips, or hands.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. In RA, your body attacks the lining of a joint just as it would if it were trying to protect you from injury or disease. For example, if you had a splinter in your finger, the finger would become inflamed-painful, red, and swollen. RA leads to inflammation in your joints and can attack almost any joint in the body. This inflammation causes pain, swelling, and stiffness that lasts for hours. This can happen in many different joints at the same time. People of any age can develop RA, and it is more common in women.

Arthritis Treatment

Each kind of arthritis is handled a little differently, but there are some common treatment choices. Rest, exercise, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and learning the right way to use and protect your joints are key to living with any kind of arthritis. The right shoes and a cane can help with pain in the feet, knees, and hips when walking.

There are medications that can help with pain and swelling. Acetaminophen can safely ease arthritis pain. Some NSAIDs (nonsteroidalanti-inflammatorydrugs), like ibuprofen and naproxen, are effective for inflammation paid, however there are side effects to be aware of, such as stomach bleeding and they may raise blood pressure. You should read the warnings on the package that comes with the drug. Talk to your doctor about if and how you should use acetaminophen or NSAIDs for your arthritis pain.

Osteoarthritis

Medicines can help you control OA pain. Rest and exercise will make it easier for you to move your joints. Keeping your weight down is a good idea. If pain from OA is very bad, your doctor may provide a corticosteroids shot in the joint. When effective, relief can last for up to a month, but there are long-term health concerns with continued use of steroids. Some people have surgery to repair or replace damaged joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

With treatment, the pain and swelling from RA will get better, and joint damage might slow down or stop. In addition to pain and anti-inflammatory medicines, your doctor might suggest anti-rheumatic drugs, called DMARDs (disease-modifyingantirheumatic drugs). These can slow damage from the disease. Another type of drug, biologic response modifiers, blocks the damage done by the immune system. They sometimes help people with mild-to-moderate RA when other treatments have not worked.

Exercise Can Help

Along with taking the right medications and properly resting your joints, exercise is a good way to stay fit, keep muscles strong, and control arthritis symptoms. Daily exercise, such as walking or swimming, helps keep joints moving, decreases pain, and makes muscles around the joints stronger.

Range-of-motion Exercises: Dancing and yoga both relieve stiffness, keep you flexible, and help you keep moving your joints.

Strengthening Exercises: Weight training will keep or build muscle strength. Strong muscles support and protect your joints.

Aerobic and Endurance Exercises: Bicycle riding and running or brisk walking make your heart and arteries healthier, help prevent weight gain, and improve the overall working of your body. Aerobic exercise also may decrease swelling in some joints.

Alternative Treatments

A helpful short-term treatment is the application of heat, such as applying a heated compress, soaking in a warm bath, or swimming in a heated pool. Massage devices in conjunction with heat have been reported to provide temporary relief for OA pain.

Recent studies suggest that Chinese acupuncture may ease OA pain for some people. Research now shows that the dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin may help lessen your OA pain. These are both considered “alternative” therapies.

FOR MORE ARTHRITIS INFORMATION:

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
NCCAM Clearinghouse
P.O. Box 7923
Gaithersburg, MD 20898
888-644-6226 (toll-free)
866-464-3615 (TTY/toll-free)
www.nccam.nih.gov

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
NIAMS Information Clearinghouse
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892-3675
877-22-NIAMS (877-226-4267, toll-free)
301-565-2966 (TTY)
www.niams.nih.gov

American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals
1800 Century Place
Suite 250
Atlanta, GA 30345-4300
404-633-3777
www.rheumatology.org

Arthritis Foundation
P.O. Box 7669
Atlanta, GA 30357-0669
800-568-4045 (toll-free)
or check the telephone directory for your local chapter
www.arthritis.org

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