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Arthritis is common but not well understood

Nearly 53 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older. To examine the word arthritis, arthr- means joint and –itis means inflammation of an organ. So, in lay terms, it means inflammation of a joint for most situations, but through research we have discovered it can occur in other organs. Many people refer to "Arthritis" as joint pain or joint disease. Although it is quite common, it is not well understood.

More than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions exist. The most common types of arthritis are Osteoarthritis (OA), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Fibromyalgia, and Gout.

In osteoarthritis, cartilage (that cushions bones as they move around in the joint) and synovial fluid (which lubricates the joint so bones can move more easily) deteriorate due to years of use. Movement becomes more difficult and painful. Pain comes from bones rubbing against bones and/or inflammation in the joint caused by the constant friction.

Rheumatoid arthritis pain is usually caused at first, by a severe inflammatory reaction in a joint. The inflammation doesn't result from bones rubbing together, but from a malfunction in the body's immune system. In RA, the immune system goes awry and turns against the body's healthy tissues.

The body's soft tissues, including muscles, rather than the bones and joints are affected in people who suffer from fibromyalgia. Research shows that people with fibromyalgia may have imbalanced levels of certain chemicals in their bodies, including serotonin. The brain senses pain more intensely or sleep interference can increase a person's sensitivity to the pain. Pain is sensed at tender points (sensitive spots), often near joints.

Most arthritis disease processes develop slowly. Gout is a form of arthritis that literally can form overnight in a joint. A common site is the large joint of the big toe. Other joints like ankles, knees, elbows, wrists, (hands and feet) and sometimes even soft tissues and tendons are affected as well. Hyperuricemia – high level of uric acid in the blood – is what causes gout pain. Uric acid is the by-product of your body breaking down purines, found in food. For some, their body produces too much uric acid. For others, the kidneys cannot eliminate it fast enough. High levels of uric acid produce crystals in the fluid that lubricates joint linings. The crystals can also form tophi or lumps, resulting in painful joint swelling and inflammation.

Treatments can include medication, surgery and natural therapies. Various medications exist to help people live with arthritis. Analgesics are drugs that can relieve pain, but not inflammation. Biologics are drugs that simulate the body's natural response to infection and disease. Corticosteroids (glucocorticoids) are medications that mimic the effects of the hormone cortisol, which helps reduce inflammation in the body. Disease-modifying anti-­rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) work in different ways to slow or stop the inflammatory process that can damage joints and internal organs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to relieve pain and inflammation from arthritis and related conditions. They work by blocking hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which are involved in pain and inflammation. Surgery procedures include joint replacement, fusion and other techniques specific to the affected joint. Natural Therapies may include vitamins and minerals, hot/cold packs, physical/occupational therapy, massage, acupuncture, electrical stimulation and aromatherapy to name a few. Treatment can also include a combination of the above therapies. Please seek advice from your health care provider to make sure the treatment is appropriate for you.

Even though arthritis is a physical diagnosis, it is a chronic condition, which takes energy and time to manage. Managing chronic diseases can create mental and emotional stress. Arthritis and related diseases are major causes of debilitating, life-changing pain for many Americans. Some people can no longer do the activities they once did, which can weigh heavy on a person's self-worth and life fulfillment. A few things people can control related to managing their chronic disease is healthy nutrition, exercise and stress management activities.

Information for this article was found at the Arthritis Foundation website: Additional resources can be found at: American College of Rheumatology (ACR) - American Pain Foundation (APF) - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion - National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)

Article provided by Dana Breeding, RN Health Educator with Community Outreach.