R Bhattacherjee gives us a lowdown on this common but often misconstrued ailment.
We usually think of arthritis as a single disease and use the term to refer to joint pain or inflammation of the joints. This is only partially correct as more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions have been identified. People across ages, sexes and races can have arthritis; however, it is most likely to affect women and occurs more as people get older.
Common symptoms include inflammation, pain, stiffness and decrease in the range of motion. Our member, Mrs Rina Sengupta, says that she initially felt a severe pain in the knees together with an inability to walk and weakness in the knee-joints before she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. "Typically, it begins as a dull aching pain localised to the knee that worsens when a person climbs the stairs, stands up from a sitting position or in osme sitting postures. As the disease worsens, the pain makes walking, even on level ground, difficult, and people may notice a bend in their knees or bow-shaped legs, at this stage," says Dr Nilen Shah, orthopaedic specialist and joint replacement surgeon. Symptoms may be persistent or sporadic and the pain can range from mild to severe.
Some Common Types of Arthritis
Degenerative Arthritis or Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. This happens with the wearing away of the cartilage, leading to bone rubbing against bone and causing pain, inflammation and stiffness. Factors like excess weight, advanced age, family history of this type of arthritis, and previous injury increases chances of procuring the ailment.
Metabolic Arthritis is caused by the build-up of excess uric acid and the resultant formation of needle-like crystals in a joint. This causes sudden bouts of extreme joint pain, or an attack of gout.
Inflammatory Arthritis occurs when our immune system malfunctions, mistakenly attacking joints with uncontrolled inflammation, often leading to joint erosion. Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis belong to this category of arthritis.
Infectious Arthritis occurs whena fungus, virus or bacterium attacks the joint and causes swelling. Timely treatment usually cures the infection, but the ailment becomes chronic in many cases.
Your physician will usually carry out a physical examination and may ask you to undergo blood tests and imaging scans (X-Ray or MRI) to identify the type of arthritis. You must consult a rheumatologist or an arthritis specialist if the diagnosis is uncertain. Rheumatologists usually treat inflammatory arthritis, gout and other complex cases. Orthopaedic surgeons perform joint replacement and other orthopaedic surgeries. Specialists like ophthalmologists, dermatologists or dentists, may also be consulted if arthritis affects other parts of the body.
Doctors say that arthritis and particularly osteoarthritis can be overcome effectively by maintaining a judicious lifestyle. This includes opting for better food habits—consuming more green, leafy vegetables to ensure higher antioxidant content, having a protein-rich diet and providing the body with foods rich in Vitamin D and Calcium.
There are several other solutions depending on the kind of arthritis. These include:
•keeping a check on body weight
•Avoiding movements and positions such as sitting cross-legged over long durations or using the Indian style commode
•Cartilage restoring medication and joint surgery
Our member Dr Colonel (retired) Ranjan Kumar Sarkar stresses on the benefits of regular exercise to overcome rheumatoid arthritis. “Although the disease has caused some amount of deformity in my hands, I no longer suffer from the severe pain that was associated with the disease,” he explains, “Exercise ensures that arthritis doesn’t get the better of you and that you lead as active a life as you possibly can at this age.”
Pic Courtesy: Arthritis by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images