As it is arthritis care week in the UK this month – from the 14th to 21st – we are taking a look at what arthritis actually is and what you can do to manage it.
Arthritis is a painful condition in which the joints become inflamed. Although it is more common in older people, arthritis can affect people of all ages, even children.
There are two main types of arthritis – osteoarthritis (the most common form) and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis occurs because of damage or wear and tear to the cartilage in joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that happens when the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints.
Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis will cause pain and swelling. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect both sides of the body, whereas osteoarthritis lacks this symmetry – so may be found in only one hand, one knee etc.
What causes arthritis?
It is thought that certain genes may trigger the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Injury may play a part in the development of osteoarthritis.
Who gets arthritis?
Arthritis can affect anyone at any age. However, rheumatoid arthritis is most common between the ages of 30 and 50. Osteoarthritis is more common in older people. Both types are most often found in women.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
With rheumatoid arthritis joints become stiff, painful and swollen. Symptoms will vary as there are times when the disease is active and times when it is inactive.
When the disease is active, during a flare-up, you may experience
- Pain and stiffness in joints
- Loss of strength and movement
- Feeling generally unwell and tired
Pain and stiffness can be especially bad first thing in the morning and after sitting for long periods of time.
Joint pain and stiffness also characterises osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis develops over time and disease progression can be slow. Pain and stiffness will gradually worsen as the disease progresses. In its advanced stages joints become knobbly and deformed in appearance. However, at this stage pain is often less and some people are even pain free.
Both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis are mainly treated and controlled with medication. Medication will include drugs for pain relief, anti-inflammatories and drugs to slow the course of the disease. Joint replacement surgery may be an option in advanced cases.
The link between food and arthritis
There is much debate over whether there is a link between food and arthritis, but no definite connection has been made. But, certain foods may help with pain and inflammation.
Omega 3 seems to be beneficial for people with arthritis. It is thought omega 3 found in oily fish may ease the symptoms of inflammatory arthritis. Try to eat oily fish at least twice a week.
Your GP should be able to give you more advice and help on coping with arthritis, or contact us to make an appointment with one of the Medcare GPs.