Arthritis is a term most of us grow up with. We notice our parents and grandparents moaning a little more, slowing down quite a bit and rubbing their hands all the time. For many of us, it’s just an inevitable part of life; you get old, you get arthritis-right? What may surprise you is arthritis can even affect children. Early findings report arthritis as being the most common medical condition of the population in those days and, its presence is documented in the skeletal remains of Native Americans throughout the United States. Evidence of arthritis (inflammation of the joints) dates back thousands of years ago. Archaeologist’s report that it was common in both prehistoric people, even dinosaurs, with the first recorded traces of human arthritis dating back over 4,000 years ago.
Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a painful inflammatory condition that affects over 250,000 children under the age of 16 just in the US. Many of the kids are diagnosed with arthritis at the onset, which starts affecting other joints in half of them and as few as one joint in a third of the children. The bottom line is that overall, 20% of the total children suffering with juvenile RA develop the acute systemic form of the disease. Symptoms include:
- Joint inflammation
- Liver disease
- Gastrointestinal disease
There are two periods during childhood associated with increased susceptibility in developing juvenile RA. The first period is when the child is between one and three years of age. Period two is when the child is between eight and twelve years old. The Mayo Clinic Study reports that between 1955-1994 (following 40 years of fewer reported cases), the frequency of rheumatoid arthritis amongst women is rising. From 1995 to 2005, the number of cases of RA among women was 54 per 100,000 compared to 36 per 100,000 for the previous decade and by the year 2040, it is estimated that approximately 78 million (26%) of adults in the United States aged 18 years or older will develop medically-diagnosed arthritis. Reported cases of arthritis for men remained stable at 29 per 100,000.
The Mysteries Surrounding Arthritis
To date, there are currently more than 100 types of arthritis. The most commonly diagnosed forms are:
- Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) typically occurring with age. Symptoms include pain and swelling in the fingers, knees, and hips.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: An autoimmune disorder that usually affects the hands and feet
- Other types: Include gout, lupus, fibromyalgia, and septic arthritis; all types of rheumatic disease.
Osteoarthritis is the slow disintegration of joint cartilage and the bone beneath it. Onset usually occurs at middle age and progresses from that point. Symptoms are pain and stiffness, primarily in the hip, knees, and one or both thumb joints. Osteoarthritis is the most commonly diagnosed form of arthritis. It may develop in large and small joints of the body, affecting:
The most common causes of osteoarthritis are years of wear and tear of the joint and also as a result of trauma. Osteoarthritis typically starts in the cartilage resulting in the two opposing bones to dissolve into each other. This type of arthritis usually invades weight-bearing joints, such as the knees, lower back and hip sockets. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis is a condition of older men and women. More than one-third of women have some evidence of osteoarthritis by they turn 65. If you suspect you may be at risk for osteoarthritis, consult with an orthopedic specialist, have an x-ray taken and evaluate lifestyle changes that can slow down its progression.
It is not yet known what causes RA. Scientists and researchers are investigating genetic factors, environmental factors and the possibility that coming in contact with certain organisms such as bacteria or virus. Consider how the body responds to such invasive organisms; it produces cells that attack and kill the invading organism, protecting the body from disease or infection. However, when dealing with an autoimmune disease such as RA, the body produces immune cells that mistakenly fire on parts of the person’s body it has identified as foreign. The result is an immune cell that produces numerous chemicals that work against the body in order to destroy the assailant.
RA has no rules when it comes to striking a person’s joints. It can start slowly, gradually slowing you down and giving you a little pain. Or, it can begin quickly with swollen joints, pain, and stiff, rigid movements. Joints are affected in such a way that when the right wrist is showing symptoms the left wrist will also be involve. Many patients report pain in their joints with stiffness when first getting up in the morning which lasts about an hour. As time goes on, RA causes the joints to become so stiff they are difficult to straighten, and affect the fingers and toes to become permanently bent and deformed forcing them to curve outward abnormally.
Additional symptoms of RA are:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Rheumatoid nodules (bumps appearing under the skin around the joints and on the top of the arms and legs).
- Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) a condition which may interfere with blood circulation.
- Skin ulcers
- Tissue death (gangrene)
- Nerve damage (causing numbness and tingling).
Treatments and Therapies
While there is no known cure for arthritis, there are things you can do that help in relieving the pain. Always take time to rest. Your body is an amazing creation designed to heal whenever possible. Heat and pain travel along the same pathways so, warm baths and showers can help as well. If you respond well to alternating heat and ice this is a great way to improve circulation-just make sure you always use a towel between your skin and ice for no longer than 20-minute intervals. Sometimes we go through stages where we gain weight and suffer when our hips can’t support the increase. Be honest with yourself, and investigate different exercises and diets for people with limited mobility. Finally, keep moving and take pain medications such as ibuprofen and paracetamol (acetaminophen) for joint flare-ups and inflammation. Depending on a consult with your doctor, a hip or joint replacement may be recommended.