“Arthr”, meaning joint and “itis”, meaning inflammation is a catch all term for any disorder that affects joints. Although there are more common forms of arthritis such as Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis, there are in fact over 100 types of arthritis.
Differing forms of arthritis have different onset risk factors, different symptoms and different treatments. It’s important to recognise that 2 people suffering from arthritis may suffer different symptoms and may require different treatments.
There isn’t a known cure for the more common forms of arthritis but there are several treatments and lifestyle interventions available that can make living with arthritis more manageable.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the more common types of arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent type. It’s estimated that about 10% of males and 18% of females over the age of 60 are affected.
Scientists used to think that osteoarthritis was a result of general wear and tear of certain joints but the consensus has since moved on to recognise that the general ageing process and chronic low grade inflammation are the significant risk factors in the development of osteoarthritis.
The most common joints affected are the big weight bearing ones, mainly the hip and knee. Other joints commonly affected are the hands, feet and spine. All these examples are known as synovial joints. This type of joint all share a common feature where the 2 bones forming the joint are covered in articular cartilage which is a smooth and self lubricating. It allows the 2 bones forming the joint to glide across each other with little to no friction.
The primary causes of osteoarthritis is the progressive loss of the articular cartilage. As the cartilage reduces the 2 bones forming the joint start to rub to together causing inflammation and pain.
This progressive loss is primarily associated with age but there are other risk factors as well….
Low grade chronic inflammation definitely plays a role in the development of osteoarthritis. This inflammation is complex in nature and mainly occurs due to age related changes in cells that interact with the synovial joints.
Previous joint injury also seems to be a significant risk factor in the development of osteoarthritis later in life. There is a correlation between people who begin to suffer with osteoarthritis later in life whom also suffered an injury to the arthritic joint at an earlier stage.
Obesity is also strongly correlated to the development of osteoarthritis as it causes chronic added stress to the joints. Reduction of body weight both before the potential onset of osteoarthritis and as a treatment to osteoarthritis is highly advised.
Other risk factors include neurological disorders, genetics and even some medications.
There are some key symptoms to osteoarthritis but the primary one is pain at the affected joint. Depending on how severe the osteoarthritis is the pain can be present after exercise in more mild cases and even during rest in more severe cases. It’s also common to have pain in the morning but this normally goes away within an hour.
Stiffness is also commonly associated with osteoarthritis which can then impact range of motion and general mobility.
There are a few methods of diagnosing osteoarthritis but it normally starts with an X-ray which can be very revealing. An X-ray will generally show any loss of joint space. That is, the amount of space between the 2 bones forming the joint. Any loss of space strongly suggests that the articular cartilage has been warm away. An X-ray will also show bone spurs or osteophytes. These can commonly be seen in peoples hands that are osteoarthritic. The bone spurs or osteophytes create lateral bulges at the finger joints which is a result of bone forming at the joints edges.
There are several treatments to osteoarthritis which can help to significantly improve quality of life and reduce the pain and stiffness.
Lifestyle interventions are often very helpful. Weight loss in those who are overweight is strongly recommended. Basic education can be very helpful in managing symptoms. Use of mobility aids such as a walking stick or knee braces can be helpful. There is also some research regarding acupuncture and it’s benefits for osteoarthritis at certain joints.
There are also some medicines that can help including paracetamol, topical anti inflammatory or oral anti inflammatory drugs. Some people who have severe flare ups of osteoarthritis might have a glucocorticoid injection at the affected joint for temporary relief.
As a supplement, fish oils have been shown to have a positive impact on osteoarthritis along with numerous health benefits.
As a last resort, surgery of the larger affected joints such as a knee or hip replacement can be done.
People suffering with osteoarthritis often present with muscle wastage normally as a result of reduced movement and exercise due to the pain and stiffness in the joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis is also common but there are distinct differences between osteo and rheumatoid types.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto immune disease whereby your own body gets confused and attacks the joints causing joint damage over time.
In rheumatoid arthritis it’s not the cartilage that’s being damaged, it’s the synovium which also surrounds the joint.
The symptoms are very similar, but what’s at the joint is different.
Rheumatoid arthritis typically affects people at middle age but it can strike at any age. It typically has a more rapid onset that osteoarthritis. A few weeks or even days.
It also presents with more symmetry. Unlike osteoarthritis where only 1 knee might suffer, or just the left side of your hip will be affected, with rheumatoid it’s normally both sides.
Another common point of differentiation is measured by morning stiffness. With rheumatoid arthritis morning stiffness can last a long time. In Osteoarthritis it typically starts to get better very quickly and is often gone within an hour.
A blood test might also show elevated inflammatory markers with those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, however this isn’t always the case. With osteoarthritis blood markers won’t be elevated at all.
Hopefully, if you’re reading this as an arthritis sufferer you’ve already had a confident diagnoses of what type yours is and have received good advice on life style interventions and medical interventions if needed.
Stress is a often a significant trigger for flares in those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
Treatment for arthritis is extremely individualised. What works well for some might not work so well for others.
So, there are distinct difference between the 2 most common forms of arthritis. It's also possible to suffer both types at the same time.
It's not uncommon that people are mis-diagnose themselves with the wrong type of arthritis. If you suspect you have any form of arthritis make sure you see your GP to discuss it. There are several treatments and lifestyle interventions available that can make living with arthritis far more manageable.