Arthritis can really cripple down your life and make you less mobile and can add to a lot of frustration if you are leading a very active lifestyle. Many of us are still very ignorant about the facts of arthritis until it gets to us then many of us actually start searching for answers for many questions starting with “What is Arthritis and what are it symptoms?”
Arthritis is a condition in which there is an inflammation in one or more joints that can cause occasional or a chronic pain in the joints. This condition generally affects as they cross 60 but it is not surprising to find cases in young adults these days. Even children may get affected from arthritis, but managing arthritis and recovery is easier in them, the problem occurs when you are an adult and you are not even aware that it has got you in its clutches.
What are the types of Arthritis?
The two main types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the arthritis of the knee joint where there is pain and inflammation in the knee joint.
The knee joint is supported by a layer of cartilage, a connective tissue on the end of the bones which provides smooth movement for the bones and due to which you are able to walk and run without any problems.
As you age the cells (chondrocytes) in your cartilage start depleting due to various reasons like excess stress on the joints, obesity, free radical attack, auto immune response of the body. This causes the cells to produce more inflammatory mediators due to which you feel the pain in your joints.
At this age, regeneration of these cells in very very slow and on the other hand cells keep going down in number.
This causes loss of precious cartilage and the space in your knee joint becomes less (as shown in the picture above). This is a progressive condition and finally the bones touch each other and actually rub each other when you walk. At this point of time your doctor recommends total knee replacement for you to be able to walk normally again.
The basic mechanism is same here only the joints that get affected here are the smaller joints like that of your toes, fingers, wrists . The fingers lose their normal shape and also become become very stiff as cartilage is present in your smaller joints
Basic activities like buttoning your shirt, tying shoe laces, grabbing a cup, etc. become difficult and overall quality of life gets affected.
In this type of arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue, which also includes the joint and affect the joint linings causing arthritic pain and inflammation. Over a period of time this causes erosion of bones and joints give a deformed appearance.
How Arthritis Happens?
Now that’s a million dollar question and literally million of dollars are spent every year on research of arthritis.
The exact cause is unknown, but the damage caused may be due natural wear and tear of the body, excessive stress, sports injuries in the past or it can also be hereditary in nature as the genes involved in manufacturing the cartilage may also be a one of the factors.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Arthritis is a very slowly progressive disease and its very difficult in the initial stages of the disease to diagnose the symptoms. A doctor in the initial stages will definitely be able to diagnose it, but the point is that the person who feels the initial symptoms many a times ignores and misses out on the chance of its initial diagnosis.
In just the start of the disease there may or may not be any pain associated with the joints of the knees or the fingers. And when there is pain in the joints, many adults just ignore it associating the pain with their increasing age and even worse have pain killers to get the temporary relief from pain. It is to be well understood that relief is only temporary and the pain is going to return again.
So basic symptoms of arthritis will be occasional pain with certain loss in mobility of the patient. He or she will have some difficulty in carrying out day to day activities like walking up the stairs, getting up from sitting position because of the stiffness of the knees, buttoning up the shirt, etc. These symptoms start becoming more severe as the disease progresses and thus it is very important to seek care in the initial stages of arthritis so that the disease can be managed properly.
Treatment of Arthtritis
Arthritis is a slowly progressing disease and the treatment varies depending at what stage the patient is diagnosed at.
If the patient is diagnosed early or in the mild stages of arthritis, then the doctor may immediately not start any prescription drugs. The doctor may ask the patient to have a lifestyle modification in terms of weight loss so as to reduce the mechanical stress on the joints and exercises to improve the mobility and flexibility of the joints.
When the pain starts increasing as the patient starts gradually moving towards the moderate stage, the prescriptions of pain killers, natural disease modifying therapies like glucosamine, chondroitin, diecerin, collagen, rose hip, etc are prescribed depending on the condition of the patient.
The therapies have a two way approach, one is to take care of the pain in the patients and the other is to protect the cartilage in the joints and to protect from further damage.
When the pain in under control and cartilage is protected, the flexibility of the joints is improved which helps the patients with increased mobility. This also encourages them to exercise more, control over the symptoms of arthritis and thus get control over arthritis.
The severs stage of arthritis however is a different ball game altogether. If the doctor is still hopeful of cartilage repair, depending on the amount of articular cartilage left, then the doctor has some options like collagen therapy plus injecting hyaluronic acid directly in the knee joints in case of knee arthritis.
This will help in providing much needed lubrication to the joints and hopefully improved mobility and flexibility to the patient.
If the doctor is not hopeful about restoring the lost cartilage then the doctor has to opt for surgical options like arthroplasty and total knee replacement (TKR).
In arthroplasty, instead of total knee replacement only a small part of bone is removed and the gap between the two joints is removed and is filled with tissue. This helps in relieving pain and improved range of motion for a knee arthritis patient.
In TKR, the complete knee joint is removed and is replaced with an artificial knee made of metals like stainless steel or alloys, titanium, polyethylene and more research is still being carried out in making the best kind of artificial knee joint.
This is just an overview in understanding what exactly is arthritis, what are the symptoms of arthritis and what one can do and diagnose arthritis early so that proper treatment can be started in time to take control over the disease and live a pain free and an independent life.
Lack of awareness and ignorance of arthritis takes the disease from a mild to severe stage and as it progresses, managing the disease becomes altogether difficult. So if you are young or old and if you don’t know a lot about arthritis, make sure you try to read as much as you can about it and help others if you find them with symptoms of arthritis.