Arthritis is a condition many of us have had some experience with; whether it’s relatives, friends or personal experience, we’ve likely encountered the often debilitating illness at some point. As we get older, particularly where genetics is concerned, the realisation that we may personally suffer from this can be frightening, especially as we see or have seen how this affects those we love. So in this month’s ‘Let’s Talk’ health feature we talked to Arthritis Research UK to get a better understanding of the most common forms. However, don’t let this be the end of the quest to understanding, we can’t recommend reviewing their website highly enough either, it has a wealth of information available and surprisingly we found that Fibromyalgia, a condition which is gaining much attention but has little knowledge around, is actually an arthritic condition; the information they provide is insightful, informative and supportive.
What is arthritis and who does it affect?
Over 10 million people in the UK live with the daily pain of arthritis. This invisible pain can have an impact on every aspect of a person’s life, from the ability to perform everyday tasks, work and family life to even a person’s mood or ability to sleep.
There are over 200 different types of arthritis however; the most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which affects around 8.5 million people in the UK. With this condition the surfaces within the joints become damaged so the joint doesn’t move as smoothly as it should. It can affect any joint, however, it is more likely to affect weight bearing joints such as the knees and hips.
The second most common form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis which affects over 400,000 people in the UK. The condition is an autoimmune condition, which means that the immune system starts attacking the body’s own tissues instead of germs and viruses, which in turn causes inflammation within the joint that can lead to damage.
Symptoms and when to seek medical advice/help
The most common symptoms for osteoarthritis include pain, which tends to increase over the course of the day, stiffness in the affected joints and possibly a grating/grinding sensation. For this condition, we recommend speaking a doctor if the person experiences recurrent joint pain.
For rheumatoid arthritis, the main symptoms include joint pain and swelling, especially in small joints, stiffness which is worse upon waking and general flu like symptoms. Rheumatoid arthritis varies from one person to another but it usually starts quite slowly. A few joints – often fingers, wrists or the balls of feet – become uncomfortable and may swell, often intermittently. Early diagnosis and the commencement of treatment is incredibly important for this condition, so if a person experiences pain and stiffness in the morning that lasts longer than an hour we recommend them to see their doctor as soon as possible.
What causes it?
The are many factors that can affect your risk of developing osteoarthritis including age as risk increases after the age of 40, gender as more women than men tend to be affected, genetics, previous injury to the joint and weight.
For rheumatoid arthritis, we are not entirely sure what sets of the autoimmune responses however, the condition itself seems to be a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors. Risk factors for this condition include age as although it can occur at age it most commonly starts between the ages of 40 and 50. Gender is also a risk factor also as about three times as many women as men are affected. Previous research has also suggested that lifestyle factors such as smoking and high consumption levels of coffee and red meat also increase the risk of developing the condition.
There are two things which can help prevent or slow the progression of osteoarthritis. One is to keep active and maintain movement of the joints, the other is to maintain a healthy weight, as extra weight can put strain of the joints.
About Arthritis Research UK
Arthritis Research UK invests in breakthrough treatments, the best information and vital support for everyone affected by arthritis. They believe that by harnessing the power of exceptional science we as a society can overcome the pain, isolation and fatigue arthritis causes, making everyday life better for all those directly and indirectly affected by the condition.
To find out more about arthritis please visit the Arthritis Research UK website: www.arthritisresearchuk.org