What are the symptoms of arthritis? When should I call my doctor?
Symptoms of arthritis include persistent joint pain, pain, or tenderness in joints which is aggravated by movement such as walking, getting up from a chair, turning a key, holding an object, throwing a ball, etc., joint swelling (inflammation), stiffness, redness, or warmth, loss of mobility/flexibility or range-of-motion, and often loss of energy. The symptoms are described by sufferers as "pain and stiffness" in any one or more of the following areas of the body: knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, hands, and/or feet.
If pain persists up to two weeks, it is recommended that you contact a physician.
Who is affected by arthritis and rheumatism?
An estimated one out of six, or 43 million, people in the United States have arthritis or other rheumatic conditions. By the year 2020, this number is expected to reach 60 million. Rheumatic diseases are the leading cause of disability among adults age 65 and older.
Rheumatic diseases affect people of all races and ages. Some rheumatic conditions are more common among certain populations. For example:
- Rheumatoid arthritis occurs two to three times more often in women than in men.
- Scleroderma is more common in women than in men.
- Nine out of 10 people who have lupus are women.
- Nine out of 10 people who have fibromyalgia are women.
- Gout is more common in men than in women.
- Lupus is three times more common in African American women than in Caucasian women.
- Ankylosing spondylitis is more common in men than in women.
Is arthritis hereditary?
There is some evidence to support genetic inheritance of arthritis from parents. In other words, if one or both parents have arthritis, there is a slightly better chance that their child will also develop arthritis.
What should I tell my primary care physician about my pain?
It is ideal to give your doctor as much information as you can about your condition to make a good diagnosis. These details can include
- Date of onset (when did you notice the pain originally?);
- A recent injury or activity associated with the pain;
- Pain location and severity (where and how bad does it hurt?);
- Any swelling, redness, or warmth associated with the pain;
- Times when is the pain present and how long it lasts;
- What factors make the pain worse or better;
- Improving, worsening, or unchanged pain;
- Attempted treatments (have you tried over-the-counter medicine, heat/cold packs, stretches, etc?), and
- Family history (do other family members -- parents or siblings -- have similar pain?).
What's the difference between arthritis and rheumatism? What is connective tissue disease?
Arthritis is defined as inflammation or damage of the joints, but there are over 100 conditions classified as types of arthritis which involve inflammation of tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints. Rheumatism describes nearly any condition associated with joint or muscle pain. It doesn't indicate a specific disease but indicates any condition that causes pain, inflammation, and stiffness in your joints and muscles. For example, both rheumatoid arthritis and bursitis are forms of rheumatism. Connective tissue disease refers to an inflammatory disease marked by autoimmunity. In other words, the immune system, which normally fights off foreign invaders (“germs”) starts attacking the body’s normal tissues. An example of a connective tissue disease is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), tendonitis, or fibromyalgia.
I just found out that I have arthritis. Does this mean I have to give up physical activities?
No. Exercise can reduce joint pain and stiffness in addition to increasing muscle strength, endurance, and fitness. Low-impact exercise such as swimming, low-impact aerobics, range of motion, and stretching exercises may reduce joint pain and stiffness. Consult a physical therapist or physician to create the optimal program for you.
What can I do to protect my joints if I have arthritis?
According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are several things one can do to protect his/her joints. These include
- Maintaining an ideal body weight;
- Low-impact exercise;
- Good posture;
- Alternating periods of heavy activity with rest;
- Changing position periodically; and
- Learn to avoid situations that induce pain (overuse, heavy lifting, etc.).
My fingers aren't as nimble as they used to be. Is there anything I can do about it?
Various hand exercises may help keep hands and fingers limber and ease discomfort. Consult your physician or physical therapist for suggestions.
Are there any foods I should avoid because they might trigger a flare-up?
Only in rare cases of arthritis and gout are certain foods implicated as triggers. For the most part, a healthy, balanced diet, and ideal weight maintenance can aid in reducing arthritis symptoms. If you think a certain food may be associated with your pain, tell your physician and try to avoid that food.
Does weight affect arthritis pain?
Excessive weight does put extra stress on weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips. Studies of overweight women showed that loss of 11 pounds substantially reduced osteoarthritis in the knees. Furthermore, weight loss in patients in which osteoarthritis affects one knee can reduce the possibility of developing symptoms in the other knee.
Can alternative arthritis treatments provide effective relief from symptoms?
Every patient may respond differently to various treatments. It is important to work with your physician to identify the best course of action for you. Providing as much useful information to your doctor regarding medications you may take, family history, activity level, and a good description of your symptoms will aid in identifying the optimal treatment. Medial advice frequently balances lifestyle changes, exercises, and different medications/treatments in specific response to patient symptoms.