Swollen, stiff and painful joints are common symptoms of arthritis or joint disease. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions that can also affect connective tissues and organs, including the eyes, heart, lungs and skin. While thick, knobby fingers may reveal surface signs of arthritis, deeper down in the joints where bones connect, and even in soft tissue, is where arthritis can wield debilitating damage.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 54.4 million American adults, or about one in four, have arthritis, and that by 2040, an estimated 78 million U.S. adults age 18 and older will have arthritis—a leading cause of work disability in the country. Anyone of any age can get arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation says that about 300,000 babies and children have arthritis or a rheumatic condition—but the joint disease becomes more common with age.
“While the causes of many types of arthritis are unknown, a number of risk factors increase the likelihood of getting arthritis,” said Gregg Balbera, president of Right at Home Nassau Suffolk. “Age is a factor because the older you get, the more wear and tear your joints endure. We work with a number of older clients who injured themselves when they were younger and the accumulated stress on their joints has accelerated the occurrence of arthritis.”
The increased risk for arthritis is also higher among individuals who have chronic health conditions such as obesity or diabetes. The Arthritis Foundation reports that 31 percent of adults who are obese have arthritis and 47 percent of diabetics are arthritic. Family genetics also influences who develops certain types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis. The CDC notes that inheriting specific genes, the HLA (human leukocyte antigen) class II genotypes, elevates the risk for arthritis and can intensify arthritic conditions.
Common types of arthritis and risk factors
Arthritis symptoms can come and go or be steadily persistent with varying degrees of pain severity. Common types of arthritis include osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis that occurs when cartilage, the protective connective tissue on the ends of bones, thins and deteriorates, causing friction in joint movement. Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder, occurs when a person’s immune system attacks the body’s healthy tissues, eroding the lining of joints (synovium) and triggering painful inflammation. Psoriatic arthritis, a type of inflammatory arthritis, is typically associated with psoriasis, a skin disease that presents with a red, scaly rash. People with psoriatic arthritis often experience swelling in their hands, knees, ankles and feet, with fingers and toes sometimes swelling to a sausage shape.
Other familiar forms of arthritis include ankylosing spondylitis, mainly affecting the spine; gout, caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals in a joint; and lupus, a systemic autoimmune disorder.
How to prevent arthritis
While some forms of arthritis cannot be prevented, many types can be minimized or slowed by making certain lifestyle changes. Some of the best ways to keep joints healthy and prevent degenerative arthritis include maintaining a healthy weight, which adds stress to weight-bearing joints like the knees or hips and avoiding injuries to joints, ligaments and cartilage, especially if you are an athlete in high-impact sports. It is also a good idea to ease up on repetitive movements as certain activities and occupations with repetitive motions such as running, jumping, lifting, bending and kneeling can wear down cartilage that cushions joints in the body. Be smart and protect your immune system as a strong, healthy immune system can help counter inflammatory arthritis and can also lessen symptoms of infectious arthritis caused by a virus, bacterium or fungus. Last but not least, avoid smoking. Research has found that smoking elevates a person’s risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis and can heighten the disease symptoms. Smoking also lowers the body’s immunity levels and hinders a person from staying physically active.
Care tips for arthritis
A thorough evaluation, early diagnosis and on-target treatment from a rheumatologist will help lessen joint changes and chronic pain. In treating and managing arthritis, a central goal is to reduce symptoms and improve a person’s mobility and function. For mild to moderate arthritis symptoms, the doctor may advise a combination of the following at-home care tips: taking over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medicines; taking prescription corticosteroids or anti-rheumatic drugs; applying heat and cold therapies to soothe pain; staying active, yet getting sufficient rest; strengthening the muscles around the affected joint; allowing the joint to rest and protecting it from overuse or strain and eating a nutritious diet to maintain a healthy weight; and boosting the body with anti-inflammatory foods such as green, leafy vegetables and fatty fish.
“An arthritis diagnosis can be a lot to handle, especially for older adults and adults with disabilities,” said Balbera. “This is where a strong support system of family, friends and professional at-home caregivers proves invaluable. Together, we can help the loved one follow a treatment plan of medications, exercise and balanced nutrition. And, Right at Home provides companionship and moral support to ease the emotional stress of managing the disease while aiming to live well today and in the future.”
For additional information about arthritis and rheumatologists in your area, contact the Arthritis Foundation at www.arthritis.org or call 1-844-571-4357.
—Submitted by Right At Home