Arthritis: First, Learn the Facts
Could it be arthritis? It can start with symptoms of pain, stiffness or swelling in one of your 360 joints – the neck, back, hip, knee, foot, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hands, fingers. Perhaps you injured your knee years ago and years later that same knee starts aching. Or maybe you suddenly and mysteriously develop intense pain in a finger joint that comes and goes over a period of time.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, not only are there more than 100 types of diseases and related conditions that may be diagnosed as arthritis, it isn’t so easy to diagnose in the first place. While osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, symptoms vary greatly depending on the type. Some may begin with an unrelated health issue, such as fatigue or a rash; others can lead to internal damage to the heart or other organs.
Early diagnosis and treatment is important to preserve your joints
The Arthritis Foundation estimates that there are as many as 54 million adults inflicted by arthritis and states that it is the leading cause of disability in the United States. Infants and children can also be affected by arthritis.
It is important to know early on which type of arthritis you have. Some forms require prompt action and ongoing treatment to help prevent permanent join damage and other serious health problems. On the other hand, if you have mild or infrequent joint pain it may generally not be a cause for urgent care and can be managed with self-care.
A diagnosis of arthritis begins with a visit to your primary care physician to discuss your pain. He or she may then refer you to further examination by a rheumatologist, a specialist who is trained in diseases that involve the bones, muscles and joints, to correctly diagnose what type of arthritis you have and how to treat it.
The Arthritis Foundation states that while there is no sure way to prevent arthritis, you can help reduce your risk, although some arthritic diseases cannot be prevented if they are genetically-induced. Other risk factors are considered to be modifiable through changes, such as:
- If your joints are healthy now, be intentional about maintaining mobility and function
- Osteoarthritis may be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight
- Rheumatoid arthritis may be prevented by not smoking
- Gout may be avoided by following a healthy diet that is low in sugar, alcohol and other purines (foods high in uric acids such as red meat and fructose)
- Sports injuries that can lead to arthritis may be avoided by using proper training and equipment
For more information about arthritis: visit the Arthritis Foundation website at arthritis.org.
By Holly Harmon for Puget Sound Orthopaedics