Arthritis is an inflammation of one or more joints in the body, though the term is used to describe almost all problems associated with the joints. You may have heard of arthritis referred to as rheumatism. Rheumatism is a term that most people are familiar with, it is a very general term used to describe any aches and pains in the bones, muscles and joints. The word rheumatism is usually used when no specific arthritis or disease can be found as the cause of the person’s symptoms. Rheumatic disease refers to any type of arthritis, rheumatism or musculoskeletal disease. There are over 100 conditions altogether, some rare and some common. Arthritis can affect anyone of any age, including children, however, arthritis tends to affect women more than men.
What are joints?
Joints join one bone to another and are designed to allow bones to move more freely. At the ends of the bones, the joints are cushioned by a firm, rubbery material called cartilage. As we get older this cartilage becomes more vulnerable to damage from overuse and injury.
What types of arthritis and rheumatism are there?
There are many forms of arthritis and rheumatism, some related to wear and tear (e.g. osteoarthritis) and those which are a result of an over-active immune system (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis). The most common forms of rheumatic disease are:
Osteoarthritis – this is the most common form of arthritis, for more information click here.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – this is a type of inflammatory arthritis, for more information click here.
Gout – this is another type of inflammatory arthritis for more information click here.
Fibromyalgia – this is a type of soft tissue rheumatism, for more information click here.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or lupus for short – for more information click here.
Juvenile arthritis – for more information click here.
Back pain – this is a common problem and can have a number of causes, for more information click here.
What are the symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism?
The symptoms you experience will depend greatly on the type of arthritis or rheumatism you are suffering with. However, the following symptoms may indicate that you have arthritis or rheumatism:
Swelling in one or more joints.
Stiffness around the joints.
Joints that look red and can be warm to the touch.
Constant or recurring pain in a joint that has no obvious cause.
Sudden difficulty in moving or using a joint.
Any joint in the body can be affected by arthritis and rheumatism. However, the knees, fingers and hips are the joints most commonly affected. If you have rheumatoid arthritis you may also experience a mild fever and loss of appetite or energy. Symptoms of arthritis tend to be worse in the morning and sometimes in cold, damp weather. When the affected joints are moved you may hear a click or crack.
How will arthritis and rheumatism affect me?
Again this depends on greatly on the type of arthritis or rheumatism you have. You may find it will affect you for years or it might just affect you for a few months and then get better, either on its own or as a result of treatment. It is often difficult for your doctor to tell in the early stages what course your disease will take.
Am I at risk of getting arthritis and rheumatism?
Anyone of any age, race or sex can get rheumatic disease and scientists are not entirely sure what causes it to develop. However, you are more at risk if:
You are a woman.
A member of your family suffers with arthritis.
You have had repeated injuries from sports or work related activities(a lot of sports stars can suffer with arthritis).
Can I do anything to prevent getting arthritis and rheumatism?
Though there is nothing you can do to prevent getting arthritis and rheumatism you should maintain a healthy diet and ensure you get regular exercise, this will help prevent weight gain and joint stiffness.
How is arthritis and rheumatism diagnosed?
Your doctor will normally suspect arthritis or rheumatism from your symptoms and medical history. In many cases arthritis may also be diagnosed from a physical examination of the joints, especially if it’s a large joint that is affected. You may require a blood test to confirm what type of arthritis you are suffering with, as rheumatoid arthritis needs to be quickly diagnosed. An x-ray of the affected area will usually confirm the diagnosis.
How is arthritis and rheumatism treated?
There is no cure for most types of arthritis, however, there is a large range of treatments available to help you live a normal life. The treatment you receive will depend on the type of arthritis you have and how severe your symptoms are. Some people may only require a simple, daily exercise program to help ease the pain and improve movement in the joint. If you suffer with soft tissue rheumatism, such as tennis elbow or back pain the pain may be short lived and can go away without the need for any treatment.
If you are finding the joints very painful, there are many drugs available to relieve pain and reduce inflammation around the joint. These drugs fall into three categories:
Analgesics (pain killers) such as paracetamol which help relieve pain. These are available over the counter at chemists.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, which are available over the counter at chemists. There are also many stronger NSAID’S which can be prescribed by your doctor. These drugs normally start working within a few hours, they reduce inflammation and so reduce pain. However, if taken over a long period they may cause stomach problems.
Steroids, usually cortisone can be taken either in tablet form or via an injection directly into the affected joint for immediate relief. Steroids can have side effects if taken long term so they are usually only prescribed to control severe arthritis.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis you may be given disease-modifying drugs to slow down the progress and reduce inflammation.
If you have been diagnosed with arthritis it is important that you get regular exercise, speak to your doctor about which type of exercise is best for you. Swimming is usually the best form of exercise for people with arthritis. Your doctor may also suggest you visit a physiotherapist who can give massages, acupuncture, recommend exercises and teach you relaxation techniques to reduce stress and muscle tension.
If arthritis is severe and other treatment is not reducing the pain you may require surgery to replace the affected joint. Nowadays hip, finger and knee joint replacements are very common operations.