Millions of people in the United States live with arthritis, and many forms of arthritis are more common in older adults. While severe cases of arthritis can limit mobility, there are many options for treatment and ways to live with arthritis. If you're new to an arthritis diagnosis, check out the brief guide below to find out more.
Arthritis is actually an umbrella term for a number of conditions, and it's important to determine which one you're dealing with. Symptoms can differ somewhat, as can treatments and best practices for dealing with the condition. Some of the most common forms of arthritis are summarized below.
• Osteoarthritis. This is the most common form of arthritis in the United States. While some people are more at risk for developing this condition, it can impact almost anyone. Risk factors include being female, being older, having an immediate family member with the condition, being overweight and having had a joint injury in the past. Repetitive motions due to lifestyle or career requirements can also lead to a risk of arthritis in the joint that's being overused.
• Rheumatoid Arthritis. This is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body's immune system to attack healthy cells in your joints. Risk factors can include being female, being older, genetics, smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke as a child and being overweight.
• Gout. Gout occurs when uric acid created by the body digesting certain foods builds up in joints. Risk factors for gout include eating a lot of certain foods such as shellfish and red meat, family incidence of gout, being male, being overweight and having recently had surgery.
General symptoms include pain in and around the joints as well as stiffness or swelling. These can all combine to reduce the function and movement of the joint.
Unfortunately, as it becomes more painful to move a certain area of your body, you may "coddle" that joint. For example, if your left shoulder or elbow hurts when you move it, you may begin reaching for things with your right arm instead. The less you use those joints, though, the more the arthritis can worsen. Lack of use also causes muscles to deteriorate, which makes moving the area even more difficult as time goes on.
Other conditions can present the same symptoms as arthritis, which is why it's important to get checked out by your doctor if you're having pain or can't move certain areas of your body as well as you used to.
Lifestyle changes may be able to pause or slow down the impact of arthritis, especially if you start managing your condition as early as possible.
Regular exercise can help support the function of muscles and joints, for example, so ask your doctor if it's safe for you to engage in exercise. Something as simple as walking can have ample positive health benefits. Residents of the Autumn View Gardens assisted living community can also participate in a variety of exercise activities led by staff who can help modify movement to fit various needs.
In some cases, physical therapy may help reduce discomfort and teach individuals new habits. Those exercises can increase range of motion without leading to increased pain.
Losing weight, stopping smoking and eating (or not eating) certain foods might all help with issues of arthritis too. Many foods, especially those with high levels of sugar or salt, can lead to inflammation in the body that makes pain and swelling worse. Foods such as nuts, olive oil, beans and certain fruits and vegetables can have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce swelling and help with pain. Learning the right balance of foods and beverages for your needs can be a major step in managing your arthritis.
Talk to your dietitian or doctor about what type of diet changes might help you live more vibrantly with arthritis.
Many people turn to over-the-counter pain medications and anti-inflammatories to treat arthritis, and some supplements, like fish oil, may also be helpful. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce swelling and damage to joints. However, if you're managing any other chronic illnesses, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking fish oil. It can reduce the efficacy of certain types of medications.
Another option for treating arthritis symptoms is topical medication meant to reduce swelling or pain. Creams include capsaicin or topical anesthetics. Doctors may also recommend prescription medications, which might be administered orally, via topical agents or by injection. Talk to your doctor about medication options and what might be right for your condition.
Surgery may also be an option for treatment, but most health care providers try more conservative treatments before turning to riskier or invasive procedures.
Talking to your medical providers as soon as possible after you notice symptoms is important to living well with arthritis. There are many things you can do to mitigate symptoms, and your doctor can help you begin.