If you’ve heard about arthritis, you would most likely have associated it with older patients, and with a lot of body pain. There are many things about arthritis, however, that make it a unique, and yes, painful disease. Sadly, arthritis is not only confined to the old, and it can actually come in a variety of forms.
The term arthritis itself is derived from the Greek words for joint and inflammation, and covers a group of health conditions that affect the body’s joints. Arthritis has been known and recorded for centuries. The first case was reported to date as far back as 4500 BC. Very simply, arthritis involves swelling of the joints, such that mere movement can cause body pains.
Such joints are sensitive to changes in the weather, and elder patients suffering from arthritis claim that their pains are greatest in the morning, when they first rise. Younger patients can also suffer from arthritis – the arthritic joint pain is not usually the general feature of juvenile arthritis, but the tendency to move, or the refusal to move at all, as in the case of especially young children.
To diagnose arthritis and distinguish it from routine or simple joint pain, physicians conduct a battery of blood tests and x-rays. Some blood tests can check for the presence of certain antibodies, since some forms of arthritis arise out of the body’s immune system launching an attack on itself, making these forms of arthritis autoimmune disorders. X-rays, on the other hands, can show eroding bone or cartilage.
Once arthritis is diagnosed, treatment can proceed. Treatment can come in the form of surgery or drug treatment. Those dealing with arthritis must also undergo occupational and physical therapy sessions, so that they can recover the use of their limbs and keep their blood flow constant. In all types of therapy, doctors ensure that stress on the affected joints is reduced, and pain is successfully managed.
The types of therapy to be used depend on the type of arthritis with which the patient is afflicted. A few common types include the following.
• Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system launches an attack on the joints, then moves on to affect other bodily organs such as the skin, heart, and lungs.
• Psoriatic arthritis is also an autoimmune disorder with symptoms similar to rheumatoid arthritis. It is common in patients affected by psoriasis, a skin disease.
• Septic arthritis is the wearing away of cartilage due to bacterial accumulation in and attack on the joints. This is usually caused by cuts or gashes that penetrate to the level of the bone, and are left untreated or unwashed.
• Osteoarthritis is caused by the wearing away of cartilage that protects the bone. Because of the great pain they experience, patients with osteoarthritis may refuse to move, causing their muscles to atrophy.
• Gout is a form of arthritis caused by the accumulation of crystals of uric acid in joints. Those affected with gout have to take a low purine diet, or to stay away from high-protein foods such as sardines and certain types of fish, some mussels, sweatbreads such as kidneys and brains of animals, and alcohol.
If you think you have arthritis, consult a doctor about your condition and have the necessary tests performed. If all signs point to a positive diagnosis, be sure to follow all instructions to the hilt: take all the medications prescribed, avoid all the foods that have to be avoided, and attend all therapy sessions if you are required to do so.
If you know someone with arthritis, or are living with someone afflicted with the disease, take a role in monitoring the patient’s progress by making sure that the patient follows the therapy regimen, or by watching the patient well following surgery. Arthritis is a disease that requires patience, both on the part of the afflicted and the caregiver, so obey all instructions and ask questions if necessary.