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Everything you need to know about Arthritis

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What is Arthritis?

Arthritis involves the breakdown of cartilage, which in a normal situation protects the joint, so that the joints and bones start to rub together and can end up with pain, swelling and stiffness. Arthritis is a painful condition of the joints that affects millions of men and women worldwide. The word "arthritis" comes from the Greek words ‘arthro’ (joint) and ‘itis’ ( inflammation).

A misconception about arthritis is that only the aged are affected by this disease. The truth is that almost anyone can become a victim.  Although younger people can suffer from arthritis, the majority of arthritis sufferers are elderly. Arthritis also affects more women than men. In addition, people who are overweight are at an increased risk for developing arthritis because extra body weight puts more pressure on the muscles, tendons and the bones in the joints. With increased medical and scientific research on arthritis, we have a much better understanding of the condition than we did years ago.

Table of Contents:

Causes & Symptoms
Types of Arthritis
Treatment
Natural Alternatives
Pain Relief
Arthritis and Diet

Causes and Symptoms of Arthritis

Arthritis is actually a combination of many health issues which all impact the musculoskeletal system. Affected areas include muscles, tendons, cartilage, bones and most commonly, joints. It starts as swelling in the affected joints of the knees, elbows, hands and other parts of the body. The resulting pain can become acute and severely affect your movements. When suffering from arthritis, it is advisable to seek immediate medical help. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the elderly.

Types of Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis 

Rheumatoid Arthritis can be a painful condition. It can strike children and infants  and not just the elderly, as commonly thought. The numbers tell a sad story. As many as 50,000 children in the US alone, suffer from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. This is also referred to as JRA or idiopathic arthritis. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused when the body’s own natural immunity becomes the enemy. The white blood cells attack the joints and the adjoining tissues mistakenly believing them under attack from outside sources. In the process destroying healthy cells and tissue, it is therefore classified as an autoimmune disease.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis disease can be further classified into various types: 

  • Polyarticular Arthritis: As many as five joints in the body are affected and resulting in pain and swelling. Interestingly, more girls than boys suffer from this type. Areas of the body that are affected include the joints of the neck, feet, ankles, hips, knees and even the hands. The disease also comes with small bumps and a slight fever.
  • Pauciarticular Arthritis: This type of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis also comes with pain and swelling. It affects four joints – usually it is the wrist and the knee area that can be the problem. The condition can  also cause symptoms in the eye and it is referred to as uveitis, iritis or iridocyclitis.
  • Systemic Arthritis: Can cause a high fever that tends to rapidly fluctuate, this type of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can strike almost anywhere in the body. Since the fever rises so quickly, the affected person can feel extremely ill and weak. It can be accompanied by rashes, that too come and go.There is of course the pain, stiffness and swelling.
  • Some sufferers experience psychological and emotional problems. Depression and anxiety are not uncommon. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to other diseases like scleroderma and systemic lupus erythematosus. There have been rare instances of fatality from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis

There are many types of arthritis, but among them all, osteoarthritis is the most commonly seen one. Millions of people across the world, young and old, suffer from arthritis, and since osteoarthritis is so common, the number of people suffering from this illness is huge. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 21 million people in the US alone might be suffering from osteoarthritis. Further, experts are now saying that 1 out of every 4 person who visits a physician complaining of pain, is actually suffering from osteoarthritis. It is sometimes also referred to as a degenerative joint disease, because it primarily affects the joints of the body where it pains. Some people also call it degenerative arthritis.

Since this is one form of arthritis, the main symptom of the disease is obviously the pain that can become quite acute. However because of the fact that the disease builds up slowly over the years, there are those who do not feel the pain that much – they just get used to it, and hardly notice any major change. But in others the pain can be acute, and can even cause mobility to become severely restricted. There is also usually stiffness and swelling in the joints. And the condition worsens when there is a change in the climate (such as increase in warmth or cold – particularly during the winter season), and the pain also intensifies during the fool moon.

Treatment of Arthritis Symptoms

The numbers of people affected with arthritis are as high as one in every five in the USA.  While there is no cure for arthritis, it can be treated to ease the pain and discomfort.  There are many natural ways to achieve this goal without resorting to pharmaceutical medications with their possible side effects.

One way is to aim for an anti-inflammatory diet with the help of these nutritious foods and beverages:

  • Green tea - the catechins in this tea may prevent cartilage from breaking down to help preserve the joints for longer.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – these lead to greater strength, reduced joint swelling and tenderness, less fatigue,  less joint stiffness and less overall pain. Include salmon from safe, sustainable sources, herring, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, rainbow trout, oysters, flaxseeds (ground and oil), chia seeds and walnuts in your diet.
  • Olive Oil – this contains a natural compound called oleocanthal which is said to block the same inflammatory pathways as ibuprofen and aspirin (pharmaceutical medications commonly used to fight arthritis pain).  Extra virgin olive oil from a reputable source with its stronger taste has the highest levels of oleocanthal.
  • Carotenes – these are powerful antioxidant nutrients found in cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, kale, butternut squash and spinach.  Beta-cryptoxanthin have also been found helpful in reducing the risk of developing inflammation-related disorders.  The best foods for beta-cryptoxanthin include winter squash, pumpkin, persimmons, papaya, tangerines, red peppers, corn, oranges and apricots.
  • Vitamin C – this is one of the nutrients most responsible for the health of collagen, a major component of cartilage while research suggests that those who are deficient in vitamin C may have a greater risk of developing arthritis. There are plenty of vitamin C rich foods to choose from - especially guava, bell peppers,oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, pineapple, broccoli, kidney beans, kiwi and cauliflower.
  • Anthocyanins – these are powerful antioxidants that help reduce inflammation by inhibiting production of certain inflammatory chemicals. Some of the best foods for anthocyanins include cherries, blackberries, black currents, blueberries, eggplant, elderberries, raspberries, boysenberries, red and black grapes, strawberries, and plums.
  • Ginger and Turmeric – these spices have powerful anti–inflammatory effects and should be included in your diet as often as possible.

Natural Treatment Alternatives

  • Exercising with swimming, cycling and walking being excellent forms of exercise after first warming up and stretching the muscles. Swimming is particularly helpful for joint health because it is low impact, relaxes stiff muscles and isn’t weight-bearing. Swimming also increases circulation. When the human body is submerged in water, it automatically becomes lighter.
  • Losing weight will take a lot of the strain off your joints because every extra kilo or pound aggravates the amount of stress on your knees. The more pressure on the joints, the more pain you may have, and the faster the joint deteriorates. Making a concerted effort to lose weight is the single most important step you can take.
  • Avoid injury but should it occur, use ice as an effective drug-free pain reliever to numb pain and relieve joint swelling. Apply a small ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the affected area several times a day for as long as it takes.
  • Improve your posture by deep breathing while you concentrate on standing up straight to protect your joints, from your neck right down to your ankles, and to lessen any strain on the hip joints and the back.  As you stand, keep your weight evenly distributed between both feet and keep your shoulders drawn back and down to lift and broaden your chest. Your chin should be parallel with the ground.
  • Good quality sleep is essential to your overall health and well being whilst resting your joints and helping to reduce any pain and swelling.

Arthritis Pain Relief Treatment

One of the most vivid symptoms of arthritis is the pain associated with the condition. For someone with arthritis, pain relief is essential.

Arthritis pain may stem from many different sources. These include inflammation of joint tissue, tendons or ligaments (one of the most common ravages of arthritis), muscle strain and fatigue. The intensity of the pain varies according to the extent of swelling within the joint, the severity of the inflammation, and the extent of the actual damage within the joint.

To understand the possible means of arthritis pain relief, it is important to realize that it is a condition that cannot be cured overnight. Arthritis is a nagging condition that persists.

Arthritis pain relief measures can be broadly classified into two types. Those that provide short-term relief and those that provide long-time relief. Let’s take a closer look at each type.

  • Medications: There are now a few great medications that are completely safe and give quick results as well.
  • Heat And Cold Packs: Depending on the specific case, the use of heat or cold packs, or a combination of both, often helps in providing arthritis pain relief.
  • Joint Protection: The use of splints or braces to protect the affected joints can also provide relief.
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): Mild electric pulses delivered to nerve endings with this measure provide some relief.
  • Massage: Massage can improve blood flow to the area and also generate warmth, which in turn provides some degree of arthritis pain relief.
  • Weight Reduction: Shedding those extra pounds helps in reducing the stress that is exerted on weight-bearing joints such as the knees or hips.
  • Exercise: A healthy lifestyle, coupled with a mild stretching routine is the key to finding long-term relief from arthritis.
  • Surgery: In some patients with arthritis, surgery may become necessary and call for minor operations like joint realigning to more elaborate processes such as complete joint replacement.

 

 

Arthritis and Diet 

Is there something known as an ‘arthritis diet’? In other words, can eating a certain type of food remove the symptoms of the disease and provide relief from the acute pain that is associated with arthritis? The fact is that this topic has been hotly debated for a fairly long time now, and the Arthritis Research Campaign even warns people that there might be no direct relationship between arthritis and diet. On the other hand, there are those who are absolutely convinced about this, and many experts to fall in this category. Based on this theory, already many books and electronic books and food supplements are available in the market.

Can the medical fraternity turn a blind eye to the reports that are coming in that some plant oils and even fish can reduce joint inflammations and tenderness?

Actually the relationship is quite complex, and though diet may not create an impact on all types of arthritis, it is now looking increasingly likely that at least in some it may be having a big impact. An example is Gout in which the levels of uric acid are high, so a diet that has low levels of uric acid is a good idea. Alcohol is something that falls under this category – it increases the purine levels that can alter the metabolism of the body.

There is a constant tussle going on between the conventional medical practitioners and naturopaths or those who promote alternative therapies and foods for the treatment of arthritis. Those who practice Ayurveda and Homeopathy are of the opinion that when the intestine fails to process toxins they get deposited as acids in the joints over the years, and this is what causes arthritis. The diet should be controlled and monitored to see if there is a connection.

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