Arthritis is a very common medical condition which affects around 10 million people in the United Kingdom and, despite common theories, can affect people of all ages – including children.
Today’s blog will take a closer look at arthritis, including the different types, the symptoms, treatments and how it affects your everyday life.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a condition that causes pain and inflammation within the joints. There are over 200 types of rheumatic diseases but the two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. For those who may be unaware, rheumatic means aches and pains in joints, bones and muscles.
Many people link arthritis to the elderly but it can also affect younger people and children. There are currently around 12,000 children in the UK with Arthritis, with around 27,000 cases in people under the age of 25.
Around eight million people suffer from osteoarthritis here in the UK. This form of the condition is most common in people who are in their late 40s or older. It’s often more common in women and those with a family history of the condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 400,000 people and often starts to develop once a person is aged between 40 and 50-years-old. Women are three times more likely to be affected by this form of arthritis, according to the NHS.
Due to there being many types of arthritis the symptoms can vary depending on the type you have. This makes it even more important to visit your doctor in order to get an accurate diagnosis of your condition.
Osteoarthritis initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of your joints, causing movement to become more difficult for you. This turn leads to pain and stiffness. As the cartilage lining begins to roughen and thin out, your tendons and ligaments will be forced to work harder.
This will trigger swellings and the formation of bony spurs, medically known as osteophytes. Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bone rubbing on bone, altering the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position.
Rheumatoid arthritis is triggered by your immune system targeting affected joints, causing swelling and pain. Bone and cartilage may break down and the joint’s shape may change.
The NHS recommends that you seek an expert diagnosis if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Joint pain, tenderness and stiffness.
- Restricted movement of joints.
- Inflammation in and around your joints.
- Warm, red skin over the affected joints.
- Weakness and muscle wasting.
Your doctor will send you for X-Rays or a blood test and the results of these tests should be able to determine which condition you have, if any. Arthritis Research UK list the following as other tests that doctors use to help confirm their diagnosis:
- MRI Scan – To detect early problems and show inflammation.
- CT Scan – Provides doctors with cross-sections of the body, which give detailed images of the skeleton and other tissues.
- Ultrasound Scan – Detects inflammation around your joints.
- Synovial Fluid Analysis – Looks at the lubricating fluid from your joints, which can help detect any inflammation, infection and gout.
- Biopsy – A small amount of tissue is removed and analysed. This option is only done when necessary.
- Urine Test – This helps with diagnosis or to monitor drug treatments.
It is very difficult to determine what actually causes a person to have arthritis. Some types of the condition are caused by several factors acting together, whilst some people are more likely to develop certain types of arthritis due to genetics.
Other factors can also further the risk if you are already susceptible to the condition, such as infections, smoking and physically demanding jobs. Rheumatoid arthritis is more common and severe in people who smoke for example. Working in a job which puts repetitive pressure on your body will put you more at risk of osteoarthritis.
These causes aside, arthritis can still strike suddenly without any warning or obvious trigger and can affect people of all ages.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for arthritis but there are some treatments and exercise routines which can help to slow the condition down and allow those affected to live their lives as normal.
For those who have osteoarthritis, medication such as painkillers and corticosteroids are prescribed, whilst in more severe cases surgery is available. Operations include joint replacements, joint fusion and an osteotomy which sees the bone cut and re-aligned.
There are also a number of supportive treatments available, which can help to reduce the pain. One such example is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), which uses a special machine to send electrical impulses through stick patches attached to your skin. This process numbs the nerve endings in your spinal cord which control pain.
Other examples include:
- Hot and Cold Packs – Applying these packs to your joints can relieve the pain. This is sometimes known as thermotherapy or cryotherapy.
- Manual Therapy – This is provided by a physiotherapist and involves stretching techniques to help keep your joints supple and flexible.
Patients who have rheumatoid arthritis are given treatments to help slow down the condition’s progress and to minimise any inflammation or swelling of the joints. Alongside medication, physiotherapy and regular exercise is also recommended.
Supportive treatments are commonly requested by doctors treating those with this form of arthritis. Physiotherapy can help to improve your fitness and muscle strength, as well as making your joints more flexible. An occupational therapist can help by providing training and advice that will allow you to protect your joints, whilst at home and at work.
There are exercises that you can follow on a regular basis which will help ease pain in your knee, back, neck, shoulders and feet. A guide for these routines can be found on the Arthritis Research UK website.
Living with Arthritis
Arthritis can make a person’s life very difficult as they begin to struggle with everyday tasks such as writing or making a cup of coffee. Any form of movement can become a struggle and can put people with the condition in a lot of pain.
If you have arthritis in your knees it may become difficult for you to walk or even get up out of your chair. If your hands are affected you may be unable to pick up a pen and write or play any sports.
However, if you look after yourself and make subtle lifestyle changes you can manage your symptoms a little easier. One of the most important things that you need to do is to keep your joints moving and your muscles strong. However, you need to balance this out with rest, especially if your joints are inflamed.
You should try and ensure that you put your joints through a full range of motion at least once a day to help combat stiffness. You can help achieve this by taking part in physical activity, which is also a great way of keeping fit and healthy. Regular exercise provides a great way of reducing your chances of a serious medical condition.
Be aware of how much your joints can handle, and make sure that you reduce the stress on your joints whilst carrying out everyday tasks. You should always spread the weight of an object that you’re are carrying for example.
The NHS has some recommendations for the changes that you can make at home in order to protect yourself:
- Keep important items in easy to reach places.
- Use the handrail to help get up and down the stairs.
- Use long-handled tools to picks things up or to clean/
It is also very important to stick to a healthy diet if you have arthritis. Eating healthy foods will provide your body with all of the nutrients it needs, and for you to maintain a healthy weight. Your diet needs to include the following:
- Meat, fish, eggs and beans.
- Milk and dairy foods.
- Starchy foods – bread rice, potatoes and pasta.
- Fruit and vegetables.
Eating healthily and exercising can help you to lose weight if you are currently overweight. Losing weight can help you to live with your condition. Too much weight places extra pressure on your joints in the hips, knees, ankles and feet. Popular diets include the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet.
If you have Arthritis then you qualify for VAT Exemption when you order a personal alarm system from Lifeline24. HMRC state that a product which has been “designed or adapted for a disability” qualifies for VAT exemption.
For a person to qualify they must meet certain criteria set by HMRC. This criteria says that the customer must have a long-term illness, a terminal illness or a disability in order to qualify.
Stay Safe at Home
Our personal alarm service is ideal for people who suffer from a medical condition like arthritis. If you do suffer from a fall at home, you simply press the red button on your pendant and our 24-hour Care Team will respond.