Arthritis: What you need to know

One of the most common medical conditions known in almost every household is arthritis.

If your grandma doesn’t have it, then at least a relative of yours does. However, just because it is popular doesn’t mean it is well understood.

The purpose of this article is to help the average person gain some knowledge on this disease.

The word arthritis is derived from a combination of two words: arthr- (which means joint) and -itis (which means inflammation).

Inflammation is our body’s own way of getting rid of infective agents, and bad or damaged tissues. This can manifest as swelling, heat, pain, redness or paleness of the skin in the affected area.

Arthritis is not limited to only old people; it can affect anyone including children. This is commonly referred to as “Juvenile arthritis”

There are many types of arthritis, but the two most common types are: Rheumatoid arthritis and Osteoarthritis.

We will start with one of the most common ones known by the average Nigerian, which is rheumatoid arthritis.

This is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune means, instead of your immune system fighting foreign bodies and infections alone, it also fights your own body as well.

In fact, it’s like a body guard hired to protect you, is also killing you. In this case the cells affected are the ones in your joints.

As the destruction of the cells continue, it leads to damage of the cartilage (the biscuit-like bone) and bones that make up that joint.

This causes swelling, pain and stiffness in the joint. We don’t know exactly what makes the immune system act this way. But, it has been identified that some people are at a higher risk of developing this condition than others.

They include:
1. Women
2. Those with a family member who has/had arthritis
3. Those that are 40 years and above
4. Those that smoke

It can occur in any joint of the body, but the earliest to be affected usually, are the joints of your fingers and toes.

After which it can occur in the bigger joints, such as elbow, hip, knee etc. It normally affects the joints on both sides of the body, but in a few cases it affects only the joints on one side of the body.

Pain: It is usually a throbbing or aching kind of pain which is worse after waking up in the morning or after a long period of inactivity.

Stiffness: Being unable to stretch or bend the joints fully and also a feeling of resistance as you try to move your joints.

Swelling: In some cases, the swelling present is firm to the touch. This is due to rheumatoid nodules (a kind of hard tissue) that has developed under the skin around the affected joint/s.

Others: Tiredness, fever, poor appetite, losing weight.

If you find yourself experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, it is advisable you go to a doctor to properly diagnose you.

The doctor will carry out a few tests to confirm if it is present or not. Tests may include:

Blood test: Specifically, to check for the presence of rheumatoid factor and anti CCP antibodies.

You don’t have to bother yourself about what these are, they are not going to kill you.

Imaging: X-rays, MRI scans.

Assessing your physical ability: either by filling out questionnaires designed to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, or by asking you to do a few exercises or both.

Let’s say you have a positive diagnosis. It is not the end of the world, although there is no absolute cure at the moment, it can still be properly managed.

Early diagnosis and treatment help in reducing further damage of the joints and improve overall quality of life.

The most important of which is lifestyle changes (quit smoking), and in addition there are medications, physiotherapy exercises, natural remedies to relieve joint pain and in rare cases surgery to help manage the disease.

Dr. Onyedumekwu Thelma, M.D.

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