Arthritis (“Arthro”, which means joint, and “itis”, which means inflammation) is a generic term that covers more than 100 diseases characterized by an inflammatory condition of the joints that affects one or more parts of the body. Inflammation is a medical term for pain, stiffness, redness, and swelling. Acute or chronic, arthritis can have different causes, the best known of which is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). If left unchecked, inflammation can cause significant, often permanent, damage to affected areas, resulting in loss of function and disability.
Arthritis is, therefore, inflammation of the joints which affects women and men, adults and the elderly, it can also affect children. Very serious, the severity of arthritis is generally underestimated.
Arthritis can affect almost any part of the body, but it most often attacks the hips, knees, spine or other weight-bearing joints. However, the disease can affect the fingers and other non-bearing joints.
Here are 8 surprising facts you didn’t know about this common health problem:
1/8- Arthritis covers over 100 types of joint problems
Arthritis is not a single disease. The term “arthritis” refers to joint problems. So what people generally see as arthritis is joint pain. But there are many diseases that can cause joint problems. First, there is osteoarthritis, which is wear and tears on the joints which tend to occur in older people. Most people have an older parent who has some osteoarthritis. This is what people see as arthritis.
There is another completely different type of arthritis that affects younger people. It is much rarer, and it is not due to wear. It is when your immune system begins to attack your own body. The immune system attacks the joints, inflaming them and causing pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most known variant, but there are many autoimmune diseases, with different names, all of which cause inflammation of the joints.
While there are different risk factors for each type of arthritis, genetics and your environment can usually play an important role.
2/8- Arthritis isn’t just a condition affecting older people
Certainly, arthritis increases in frequency with aging and usually develops from the age of 40. But contrary to what many people believe, this disease does not occur only in the elderly, it can occur at any age. Thus, you can suffer from it very young, that’s why it’s important to take quick action to prevent it. Arthritis advances faster with an older patient. It is very likely that for a young patient, a cartilage injury can completely heal, while for the older patient, the repair capacity is less effective.
However, even if arthritis develops more slowly in a young person, it may be responsible for an earlier disability for him.
3/8 – Being overweight is a major risk factor
Obesity is an enemy of the human body. It can be the cause of the development of many cardiovascular diseases and put the whole body in a situation of overweight. Resulting in an overload that can accelerate the degeneration of the joints, which can cause damage and arthritis. Furthermore, excess body fat can cause inflammatory changes in the body. Overweight people often respond less well to medical treatment.
Losing weight can improve your health condition and your response to treatment. This is particularly true for arthritis of the weight-bearing joints (knees, hips, back, ankles and feet). Any excess weight you carry will put enormous pressure on these joints and increase the pain. Even a little weight loss will make a big difference when it comes to pain.
However, thin people are not immune to this pathology. They can also suffer from arthritis for several reasons (bacteria, poorly treated trauma, fractures or poorly treated lesions, the practice of sports or activities that wear out the joints, lack of exposure to sunlight, an unbalanced and unhealthy diet …)
4/8- Arthritis can affect you from head to toe
Arthritis can develop in all joints, it’s not just the knees and hips that are at risk. Osteoarthritis, which involves the breakdown of cartilage in a joint, commonly affects the neck, lower back, knees, hips, and hands. In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the joints and causing pain and swelling, is more likely to strike small joints in the wrists, hands, neck, and spine. However, gout (another form of inflammatory arthritis) usually starts with pain and swelling in the big toe, and can progress to the ankles or knees.
On the other hand, children who are diagnosed with Systemic rheumatoid arthritis, the most severe form of JIA, may suffer from inflammation of the skin, liver, heart, and lungs. Various types of JIA also affect the eyes. Therefore, all children with JIA need to consult an eye doctor regularly, as arthritis-related eye diseases cause no symptoms. If they are not detected and treated properly, they can have serious consequences.
5/8 – Smoking is a factor that worsens the development of arthritis
The link between respiratory pathology, smoking, and arthritis is becoming clearer. It seems closely associated with the citrullination of proteins occurring in a genetically at-risk population. Smoking is a risk factor for developing arthritis, and the disease is more severe and difficult to control for people who smoke.
This hypothesis was tested on nearly 300 subjects suffering from rheumatoid arthritis evolving for less than a year. After receiving background therapy, they were followed for several years. Compared to other patients, in smokers, the disease started at an earlier age, the joint damage was more extensive and more marked, and the number of joints affected was greater, while these were more painful and swollen.
In the end, smoking is a factor that considerably worsens the course of the disease. It is responsible for more than a third cases of the most common arthritis’ form, and more than half cases in people with a genetic vulnerability.
6/8 – People with arthritis have more risk to have a heart attack
In addition to attacking your joints, arthritis increases the risk of stroke. After an infarction, arthritis patients fare worse than others. This risk is now widely confirmed, arthritis leads to cardiovascular complications. The strong inflammatory component of this disease promotes cardiovascular damage and the atheroma formation.
By comparing more than 300 patients of the general population, a group of Dutch researchers has thus been able to establish that their cardiovascular risk is equivalent to diabetic patients. Like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis must clearly appear as a cardiovascular risk factor. A risk that must be taken into account in the management of this disease.
Overall, people with arthritis have more signs of heart failure (HF) and more sudden cardiac death (SDC) than others.
7/8 – The diagnosis can be tricky
The diagnosis is often difficult to establish with certainty at the onset of the disease, the doctor first studies the clinical signs. Joint pain in the small joints of the hands and accompanied by morning stiffness is quite suggestive if they are symmetrical and are accompanied by persistent swelling. However, the joints may not show any abnormalities. Symptoms are usually not sufficient for diagnosis, and biological and radiological examinations are required.
Since there is no specific arthritis test, the doctor confirms his diagnosis based on all of his observations concerning the patient’s medical history, family history, living environment, physical examination, tests performed and the evolution of the patient’s condition over time.
X-rays can reveal the characteristic changes in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other types of arthritis, but they may also reveal nothing at all. MRI and ultrasound can give more information than x-rays, it allows to visualize and assess the degree of joint damage. Sometimes a small amount of fluid is taken from the swollen joint, this fluid is sent to the laboratory for a microscope examination to check if it contains white blood cells or other relevant elements.
8/8 – The treatments vary, but they are all long-term
Many forms of arthritis are unfortunately incurable. Besides, there are several methods to relieve arthritis. The treatment must be adapted to the form of arthritis encountered. Drug seeks to limit the pain and it’s generally composed of analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and when they are not enough, corticosteroid injections are offered. Antibiotics may be prescribed in case of bacterial infection.
On the other hand, a physiotherapist is often called to help reduce joint stiffness and relieve pain. Resting the joint is recommended to combat pain. Cold can also be applied to the joint for a short time for relieving inflammation.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary. Joint replacement involves the surgical replacement of a joint with a total prosthesis. This procedure provides relief and better functioning of the joint for patients who have great pain and difficulty performing their regular tasks or in those who have significant mechanical deformities.
The good news is that with consistent application of the treatments prescribed by the doctor, it’s possible to maintain a pleasant lifestyle and continue to carry out various and varied activities.