Arthritis affects around 80% of people over 50, in some degree. It cannot as yet be cured but early diagnoses and action can significantly slow its progression and alleviate the symptoms.
If you feel stiff first thing in the morning, you probably have the beginnings of arthritis.
Arthritis is defined as inflammation of the joints. This typically occurs in the fingers, shoulders, knees, elbows, hips and spine, although almost any joint can be affected. It often results in pain, swelling, stiffness, fatigue and lack of mobility.
Approximately 10 million people in the UK have arthritis and it can affect all ages – although it usually develops in people over 50. It is more common in women than men and often starts after the menopause.
There are over two hundred types of arthritis, the most common being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Although there is no cure for arthritis as yet, there are many ways to help to slow the development of it, alleviate the symptoms and pain and improve your quality of life.
See Arthritis and diet on this site.
Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage wears away and is therefore often referred to as the ‘wear and tear’ type of arthritis.
In healthy joints, a protective layer of cartilage covers the end of bones. This cartilage is smooth, strong and flexible in order to absorb the stress of movement and protect the bones from damage.
Over time, however, the cartilage can begin to thin and become pitted, rough and brittle. Quite often, small pieces of additional bone (called osteophytes) can form on the joints and the bone ends begin to rub against each other.
This causes pain and the amount of lubricating fluid called synovial can increase causing swelling, pain and eventually loss of movement.
A joint injury in earlier life may trigger osteoarthritis in later life. There is also a form called nodal osteoarthritis that runs strongly in families.
The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are:
- pain and stiffness: commonly in the morning after waking – however, this usually lasts as little as 30 minutes
- restricted mobility and ‘creaking’ once you start moving after inactivity, for example, standing after sitting
- in advanced stages, there is restricted movement, difficulty in performing normal activities and pain with weight-bearing exercise like walking.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a less common but more severe form of arthritis than osteoarthritis. Women are again more likely to get rheumatoid arthritis and it often surfaces in middle years – between 30 and 50. But children and young adults can also develop it.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually occurs in the small joints in hands and feet, as well as knees and shoulders.
In healthy joints, a protective layer of cartilage covers the bone surface and a lubricant layer helps the joint to work smoothly. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system, which normally fights infection, begins to attack your joints – which is why this form of arthritis is called an auto-immune disease.
This process can cause inflammation and pain in the joint, which appears swollen, stiff, red and warm to touch.
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can vary from mild discomfort to severe pain and can even come and go over time. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers will often have ‘flare-ups’ – periods when their symptoms become worse.
Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- pain and loss of strength in affected joints
- feeling tired and unwell
- stiffness (especially in the morning).
A diagnosis by your GP is essential, but there is a lot you can do for yourself.
In people of similar lifestyles, some may and others will not have osteoarthritis. The difference may well be that some people have a better ability to damp down inflammation and regenerate cartilage and bone tissue. Often this is linked to their diet. Does that diet counteract inflammation and does it supply the nutritional building blocks to rebuild tissue?
There are specific nutrients, foods and supplements which do that. Along with exercise and weight loss, they can reduce the progression and pain of arthritis. See Preventing and Managing Arthritis article now.
Arthritis Care has a helpline at 0808 800 4050.