Arthritis – Common but Complex

Arthritis affects more than 37 million Americans. Arthritis is actually more than one disease. There are actually 120 different arthritis-related […]

Arthritis affects more than 37 million Americans. Arthritis is actually more than one disease. There are actually 120 different arthritis-related diseases.

The most common type is osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Everyone will get osteoarthritis if they live long enough. The disease is characterized by wear and tear on the surfaces of the joints, wearing away the cartilage or the shiny white protective coating on the ends of the bones. Cartilage also acts as a shock absorber as you move and perform activities of daily living. As cartilage begins to wear away, the bone begins to wear on bone. When the bone rubs on bone, bony cysts or spurs develop as a protective mechanism to reduce the rubbing. Nerve endings at the end of the bone are activated, producing the pain. However, not everyone who has osteoarthritis experiences pain. Researchers aren’t sure what causes osteoarthritis. Heredity, trauma, obesity, biochemical metabolism, and misalignment could all contribute to this disease process.

Rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common type of arthritis, affecting 7 million Americans. This disease is an inflammatory condition affecting joints covered by synovial membranes, as well as blood vessels, organs such as the heart, lungs, and eyes. This disease has been considered crippling in the past, however modern treatments have greatly reduced disability. Medications to control inflammation, and sometimes low doses of cancer chemotherapy drugs are used to suppress the immune system which has gone awry, attacking its own tissues.

Fibromyalgia or Fibrositis, once called muscular rheumatism, is among the most common types of arthritis-related diseases. It is characterized by painful, tender muscles, sleep disturbance, and fatigue. Sometimes pain is experienced around the joint, mistaking it for arthritis. New treatments to correct an underlying chemical imbalance correct the sleep disturbance and relieve the pain.

Ankylosing Spondylitis is a form of spinal arthritis affecting men and women ages 20-40. Ligaments attached to the vertebrae in the spine become inflamed, eventually causing fusion of the spine and loss of movement. Other joints can be affected such as the hips, knees, and shoulders, as well as the eyes, and less commonly the heart. Treatment is aimed at controlling inflammation with medication and exercises to maintain motion.

Lupus is an inflammatory disease in which the body attacks its own organs. Sometimes arthritis is one of the symptoms experienced. Symptoms can also include fatigue, fever, weight loss, butterfly rash over the bridge of the nose and cheeks, extreme sensitivity to sunlight, color changes in the fingers when exposed to cold, anemia, bruising, and increased tendency to develop infections. Women develop lupus 9 times more frequently than men. Steroid medications such as prednisone are often used, as well as medications to treat the arthritis and cold sensitivity. Other medications to control the disease are often used, called Plaquenil and Imuran.

Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone mineral content is lost, resulting in thinning of the bones. The bones become porous, with many holes. Fractures of the hip, wrist, and vertebrae can result. As many as half the women over the age of 45 could be at risk. Women are encouraged to increase calcium and vitamin D in their diet, avoid smoking, excessive alcohol, caffeine, and soft drink consumption, and practice weight-bearing exercises regularly. Newer treatments to treat severe osteoporosis have been developed called Calcimar and Didronil.

Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory condition, causing severe pain and stiffness throughout the muscles in the neck, shoulders, arms, low back, hips, and thighs. Symptoms also include fatigue, night sweats, loss of appetite, and depression. This disease affects mostly women over the age of 50. Polymyalgia rheumatica is treated with cortisone medications, such as prednisone and anti-inflammatory medications used to treat arthritis. This disease usually responds to treatment and frequently goes into remission.

Scleroderma is a degenerative and inflammatory condition of tissue fibrosis in the skin, blood vessels, synovium, skeletal muscles, gastrointestinal tract, lungs, heart, and kidneys. Women are affected 3-4 times more commonly than men. Symptoms include extreme cold sensitivity, skin ulcers, swelling in the hands, arthritis, difficulty digesting food, diarrhea, weight loss, and tightening of skin in the face and other areas in the body. Treatment is aimed at reducing fibrosis and controlling the symptoms.

Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis in which a psoriasis skin or nail rash also occurs along with inflammatory arthritis. Arthritis in the hands and spine are the common joints involved. Approximately 7% of people with psoriasis also have inflammatory arthritis. Eye involvement can also occur. Men and women are similarly affected. Treatment is aimed at controlling both skin and joint involvement. Sometimes medications to suppress the immune system are also used.

Juvenile arthritis affects approximately 60,000-200,000 American children. Girls are more commonly affected than boys. Symptoms include joint pain and swelling, low grade fever, fatigue, weight loss, malaise, anemia, and growth retardation. Approximately 75% will experience remission and have very limited disability. Treatment to control inflammation, suppress the immune system, physical and occupational therapy, along with splints and braces are used.

All forms of arthritis are treatable. Newer therapies and comprehensive treatment to address all of the ways arthritis affects ones’ lifestyles are instituted. People with arthritis are encouraged to learn about their kind of arthritis and become active self-managers of the problems arthritis creates.

For more information on arthritis, contact the Arthritis Care Program at Abbott Northwestern Hospital at 612-863-4774 or 1-800-356-1540.

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