According to the NHS, over 10 million people have arthritis or a similar condition that affects the joints. Arthritis has long been believed to be a condition among people older people, yet any age group can in fact become a victim to arthritis and this stretches to even children.
The two most common types of arthritis in the UK are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The former is faced by over nine million people in the UK and occurs in adults, who are in their mid-40s or older. The other two variables associated with osteoarthritis are sex and genetics with women and individuals with a family history of the condition at greater risk.
Subversively, rheumatoid arthritis impacts a smaller scale of people in the UK approximately 400, 000 and appears between the age of 40 to 50 years old. The hormonal changes following menopause and the shifting of tendons post-childbirth puts women again at a higher risk of arthritis, so much that Joint Health Insight’s August 2011 Issue labels it ‘a women’s disease’.
Osteoarthritis, the most commonly occurring type of arthritis, is a chronic condition triggered by the deterioration of cartilage at the end of a joint. As a result of the lack of cartilage, bones rub together thereby causing irritation, pain and inflammation. Eventually, these joints can lose their strength and the pain can become long term thus impeding on individual autonomy and the ability to function independently.
The pain can be aggravated, if pieces of bone or cartilage fall off and drift into the joint space. Fortunately, osteoarthritis does not affect the health of your organs, only your joints. The areas usually affected are the knees, the hip and the hand; in the hip osteoarthritis can disrupt the movement of the hips and therefore diminish your ability to get up and down. Similarly, if you have osteoarthritis in your knees, you can expect to have difficulty straightening your legs or standing properly without aid.
Alternatively in the hands, the central areas affected are distributed across the hand starting off at the thumb’s base, the fingers’ middle joints and ending at the joints nearest to the fingertips. As a result of the inflammation and swelling, the fingers may shift sideways at the joints and on the back of your fingers you may encounter painful cysts. The pain can be fleeting, while the swelling surrounding the impacted areas remains consistent.
In contrast to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition and involves the immune system targeting the cells the joints are surrounded by, which leads to immense pain, discomfort and swelling. Over time, this can cause a breakdown of cartilage and the swelling materialising, in response to the immune system wrongly attacking cells, can change the shape of the joint.
As the lining of the joining becomes further inflamed with increased painful swelling, rheumatoid nodules can form under the skin. Rheumatoid nodules are firm, occasionally painful lumps under the skin; the National Rheumatoid Society in the UK reports over 20 percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis experience them.
In addition to swelling and pain in the joints, rheumatoid arthritis can create secondary symptoms of tiredness, fevers, weight loss, dry eyes, a loss of appetite and respiratory pain in cases where the lungs are affected.
Furthermore, rheumatoid arthiritis can leave you at risk of developing other conditions, for example Carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is developed, due to the compression of nerves responsible for directing sensation and movement in the hand and hence symptoms include pain, numbness and tingling across the hands.
In moderate cases of Carpal tunnel syndrome, symptoms can be monitored with wrist splits, though surgery will be required in more severe cases.
Additonally, rheumatoid arthritis can produce wide spread inflammation across the heart, the lungs leading to respiratory complications and eyes generating scleritis or Sjogren’s syndrome, which can cause dry eyes and a dry mouth. Although, these are the two main conditions associate with Sjogren syndrome, other concerning symptoms consist of extreme tiredness, dermatitis, vaginal dryness, muscle pain and trouble with remembering.
Treating The Symptoms of Arthritis
Luckily, the symptoms of osteoarthritis can be treated through regular exercise, prescribed anti-inflammatory medication, devices to support mobility and ensuring a healthy weight.
However, with rheumatoid arthritis controlling symptoms requires extra care and attention. The two main types of medication utilised in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis are biological alternatives and anti-rheumatic drugs.
Administered by injection biological treatments such as: etanercept, rituximab and sarilumab work by lowering the activity of B-cells in the immune system and thus work to prevent damage to cells around the joint.
Anti-rheumatic drugs, otherwise known as disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or DMARDs operate by lowering the impact of chemicals released when the joints are attacked by the immunes system.
For more information on the complications of rheumatoid arthritis, visit https://www.nras.org.uk/possible-complications-and-other-conditions