Sunday, 19 August 2012

Arthritis

Arthritis is a joint disorder involving inflammation of one or more joints.

There are over 100 different forms of arthritis, the most common form being osteoarthritis (a degenerative joint disease caused by trauma, age or infection of the joints). Other forms of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, gout and septic arthritis.

The main signs and symptoms of arthritis are swelling and pain associated with one or more joints. Most patients complain of pain in the joints before swelling is visible, with both the pain and swelling becoming progressively worse if left untreated. Different forms of arthritis require different treatments, and many forms of arthritis are irreversible with treatment focusing on pain management.



Joint pain can present in a number of diseases and disorders outside of arthritis. A patient is only considered as having arthritis if one of more specific forms of arthritis are identified through diagnosis. Arthritis can present as a primary or secondary disorder, and can sometimes go undiagnosed where patients suffer from another disease or disorder that may cause symptoms associated with arthritic conditions. If a patient presents with joint pain but does not meet the criteria for one or more of the clinically defined arthritic conditions, they may be diagnosed with undifferentiated arthritis.

Signs and symptoms


There are a number of signs and symptoms that will present with arthritis, regardless of the form of arthritis the patient has. These can include varied levels of pain, stiffness of the joints, aching around the joints and swelling. Certain forms of arthritis, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can also affect different organs in the body outside of the joints with a varying array of symptoms.

Arthritic conditions can also present with the following symptoms:
  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty moving/loss of motion in joints
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Poor sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Feelings of tiredness/fatigue/malaise
  • Inability to use hands/walk
Secondary changes, such as increased muscle weakness, a loss of flexibility and decreased aerobic activity, can occur in patients that have impacted their lifestyle due to arthritis (such as reducing physical activity to avoid the pain associated with it). Long term and severe arthritis can lead to depression and other mental health problems for the same reasons.

Some arthritic conditions are degenerative, and some patients will eventually suffer disability due to their disorder. Arthritis is one of the highest causes of disability in the later stages of life, and can lead to patients becoming home bound due to their condition.

Diagnosis and Treatment


Arthritis is diagnosed through clinical examination by an appropriate healthcare professional. This process may be supported with other examinations such as blood tests and radiology, depending on the type of arthritis suspected. Pain is a common basis for diagnosis, however it is not reliable in certain cases. For example, in children and the aged pain may not be reported; children may refuse to use the affected limb, and the aged may simply move less. Different types of arthritis have differing types of pain associated with them. Rheumatoid arthritis, for example, tends to feature pain and stiffness in the morning, which may be alleviated entirely after showering or washing. Osteoarthritis on the other hand tends to be worse after exertion.

The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and is generally associated with older patients. It is essentially acquired through the "wear and tear" of joints over time, beginning in the cartilage and eventually causing the two bones to grind into one and other. Initial pain is often reported on the use of the effected joint, however continuous pain is often reported later on. Osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but it can be prevented from progressing. Physical therapy can be used to strength the muscles and joints, and pain medication can help to manage joint stiffness and pain. Weight loss is encouraged in patients suffering from high weight, as this puts extra pressure on joints. If the disease is far advanced and the pain continuous, surgery is a viable option as joint replacement can help alleviate the problems associated with the disorder.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of arthritis where the body's own immune system starts to attack body tissue. The immune system not only attacks joints, but can also attack other parts of the body. Most damage in joints occurs to the lining and the cartilage. This eventually results in erosion of the two opposing bones. It is often reported in the knees, wrists, fingers and elbows, and most occurs in people over the age of 20. There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis, however modern medication - which includes corticosteroids - will allow sufferers to lead a relatively normal life. Surgery may be required to replace joints in rare cases.

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