Arthritis is a condition in which the cartilage that normally protects the joints in the body gradually breaks down. As the cartilage becomes more diseased, a patient may begin to experience pain and stiffness in the affected joint. Further deterioration of the cartilage will lead to a “bone on bone” circumstance that may cause severe and disabling pain.
The definitive symptom of arthritis is pain, though the nature and intensity can vary based disease severity. While certain types of arthritis cause consistent dull pain, others cause pain that is considerably worse in the morning than in the evening. Some patients deal with the pain by moving around less or by limping. This was minimize some symptoms but does not fix the problem. Other common symptoms of arthritis include swelling, stiffness and loss of movement in the affected joints.
The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA). In OA, the cartilage protecting the bones of a joint wears down over time. OA is, therefore, commonly known as the “wear and tear” disease because it occurs much more frequently in older patients. This is because the condition requires a good deal of time to develop, and usually does not occur until a patient is well past their 30’s, unless involved in highly competitive athletics. As the cartilage is worn down, the bone underneath the cartilage becomes exposed, causing the body to react in a regenerative manner. However, the new bone produced is not functional because it replaces the space vacated by the cartilage. As the body keeps trying to heal itself, the condition worsens as more bone is produced in the wrong places, leading to more friction and wear and creating an unending cycle. Recommended treatment for OA symptoms may include: rest; application of heat or ice; exercise and/or physical therapy; weight loss; medicine such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAID’s (Ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Naprosyn etc.), Tylenol, or joint supplements (Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM).
Increasingly, cases of “Post-traumatic” arthritis are being seen and treated. Patients who have had previous injuries to their joints are at risk for developing arthritis within that joint over time. Because of the original injury to a joint, the cartilage can breakdown over time, leading to disabling arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is another type of arthritis that develops over a long period of time. This condition can be identified through blood tests and X-Rays, as well as a full evaluation of symptoms. The formation of rheumatoid nodules under the skin is usually indicative of RA, which tends to form over bony processes and frequently stressed joints. Although less frequent, RA can affect other parts of the body and cause subtle inflammation of the aforementioned nodules, lungs, sclera, pericardium and other internal tissue. The disease can progress faster or slower depending on certain personal autoimmune factors. Although there is no known cause or cure for RA, there are many treatments available to both control the symptoms and considerably slow the progression of the disease. The earlier RA is detected, the more effective these treatments are. Proper exercise and weight control are often suggested treatments, along with anti-inflammatory agents and Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs).
A less common form of arthritis is Juvenile Arthritis (JA), which mirrors the symptoms of arthritis but occurs in patients under the age of 18. Juvenile arthritis can either be Rheumatoid (JRA) or Idiopathic (JIA), the latter meaning there is no defined cause. JA is also split into various subtypes, which include Oligoarticular JA, Polyarticular JA and Systemic JA. Oligoarticular refers to JIA that affects four or fewer joints of the child’s body, while Polyarticular refers to JIA that affects five or more joints, in addition to being able to affect the neck and jaw joints. Systemic JIA can cause long-lasting severe fevers and rashes as well as the usual arthritic pains, though more commonly in the small joints. Although JA affects both boys and girls, Oligoarticular and Polyarticular tend to affect girls much more often than boys. Common treatments include NSAIDs along with Methotrexate; corticosteroid injections are also used but less frequently.
Other Types of Arthritis
Other related types of arthritis, such as gout and septic arthritis are less common but still exist. In fact, before modern medicine these were much more problematic forms of the disease. Gout occurs as a result of high levels of uric acid in the blood, which crystallize in the joints and cause immense pain. This elevated concentration of uric acid can be caused by very high protein diets, high alcohol intake, or complications with other parts of the body. Septic arthritis is the result of a bacterium actually entering the joint and causing the arthritis by its actions. This arthritis usually only occurs in one joint and is easily treated with antibiotics combined with a local painkiller.
Treatment for a patient’s arthritis symptoms is individualized. Options include:
Medications, such as Tylenol or Non-steriodal Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s)
Arthritis Stem Cell Treatment
Many patients are now inquiring about the possible use of stem cell treatment to help with their arthritis.