By Bob Sterner –
Waking up to aching joints? Chances are some form of arthritis is at play and there’s plenty of company suffering along. In fact, almost 60 million Americans—about 24 percent of the adult population—agonize from some form of arthritis, according to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The problem isn’t limited to older adults, as almost 60 percent of cases hit people between 18 and 64 years old. In fact, it is the country’s leading cause of disability as about 8 million adults claim arthritis limits their ability to work, which the CDC reports helps account for the more than $300 billion in related medical costs and lost wages.
If this isn’t daunting enough, there are about 100 different forms of arthritis to consider with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis being the most common, according to Healthline.com. Other prevalent forms tracked by the CDC include fibromyalgia, lupus, childhood arthritis and gout.
Osteoarthritis involves wear and tear damage to cartilage, the hard, slick coating on the ends of bones that cushions them in joints, according to the Mayo Clinic. Pain and movement issues come about when enough damage is done and bones start grinding directly against each other.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the synovial membrane, a tough lining that encloses all joint parts. In this case, the membrane becomes inflamed and swollen, causing pain and limited movement. Left untreated, the disease can destroy the cartilage and bone within the joint.
Fibromyalgia may not be as popular, but this form causes pain all over the body, leading to sleep problems, fatigue and often emotional and mental stress, the CDC reported. The ramifications are significant. In fact, those suffering from fibromyalgia, which is twice as likely to be women than men, experience higher rates of depression, hospitalization, injuries and suicide than others.
Lupus, common among childbearing women, is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body. Gout is a variation caused by too much uric acid in the blood that leads to crystals building up in joints, fluids and body tissues. It seems to target obese men, who may engage in excessive alcohol consumption and have poor eating habits.
Children can also be impacted by arthritis, which can cause permanent physical damage to their joints, potentially making it hard for them to engage in everyday activities like walking and dressing. Researchers aren’t entirely sure of the cause of childhood arthritis, but it may stem from an underdeveloped immune system.
The good news is that there are increasing ways to treat these problems and ease the related pain.
While there may be no known cause of fibromyalgia, patients, for example, can lessen their discomfort through various stress management techniques such as yoga, massage and developing better sleep habits.
Regardless of the type of arthritis, the first critical step in dealing with the disease is to be proactive and connect to a primary care physician, according to Healthline.com. This will likely lead to an appointment with a rheumatologist for further diagnostic tests and imaging scans such as x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging and computer tomography scan that will help fine-tune the diagnosis and treatment.
Common arthritis treatments are analgesics such as hydrocodone and acetaminophen; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen; and salicylates, which can thin the blood. Menthol or capsaicin creams also are often used to help block the transmission of pain signals from inflamed joints. Beyond this, immunosuppressants and biologics can be prescribed for severe inflammatory conditions stemming from rheumatoid arthritis.
New treatments are also under consideration. For example, melatonin, the hormone secreted by the pineal gland to regulate sleep, is being studied to treat osteoarthritis, according to news reports.
Scientists at Soochow University of China, in fact, found that the hormone prevented cartilage breakdown and encouraged the production of new cartilage in rabbits. It is hoped that it will have the same impact on humans. Other supplements being studied for arthritis treatment include ginger and curcumin.
Pills and creams are only one approach. Most treatments entail weight loss to ease pressure on joints and exercise, which helps patients expand their range of motion. Low-impact aerobic workouts such as walking, cycling and swimming are seen as critical to building supporting muscles while minimizing joint damage.
Regardless, information, identification and action are the first steps to effectively dealing with any type of arthritis.