Arthritis is a broad term applied to any kind of joint disease. There are more than 100 disorders that can cause arthritis and hence arthritis should be considered a symptom rather than a diagnosis. Some of the arthritic illnesses affect not only the joints but also the skin and other internal organs with potentially life threatening complications. It is also essential to distinguish arthritic illnesses from various other disorders like fibromyalgia that can present with Musculoskeletal and joint symptoms.
Arthritic disorders have afflicted mankind since ancient times. Despite the significant recent advances in our understanding and management of these disorders arthritis remains a mystery largely due to many myths and misconceptions prevalent in the society. The objective of this article is to clear up some of the misinformation surrounding arthritis.
The basic structure of a joint consists of a joint capsule which surrounds a layer of lining cells (termed synovial membrane), lubricating fluid (synovial fluid), a slippery smooth substance (cartilage) which covers most of the surface of the articulating bones to ensure smooth painless movement across a joint. Arthritis results in various manifestations and more importantly serious irreversible damage to the joint structures. Of the different manifestations of arthritis the most important are pain, stiffness, inflammation, limitation of movement and deformity of joints. When a joint is inflamed it may be swollen, tender, warm to the touch or red.
The commonest misconception about arthritides is that it affects only older people. In fact, arthritides can affect individuals of all ages including children.
It is commonly believed that arthritis exhibits only minor aches and pains requiring simple over the counter remedies. In reality arthritic illnesses consist of much more than pain and hence optimal management focuses not only on pain relief but also the pathophysiology of the disorder. The treatment of these disorders goes beyond simple drug management and also incorporates physiotherapy, occupational therapy, assistive devices etc. With the recent advances in healthcare chronic arthritis illnesses are very well treatable like other chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension though there is no scientific evidence that a cure for these illnesses currently exists. With the currently available treatment modalities most of the patients are able to maintain an active, independent near normal lifestyle.
A common question often raised is about the efficacy of alternative drugs for the management of arthritides. The question raises a few complex issues and hence certain important considerations need to be addressed. Most of the alternative drugs have not been adequately tested in properly designed studies. Therefore the data on toxicity and efficacy of these agents is often lacking. Arthritis symptoms can vary over time and spontaneous remissions are known to occur. In arthritis treatment trials placebo or inactive substance treatment results in improvement in nearly 30% of patients. Therefore in the absence of adequate data analyzing the efficacy of these agents is not possible. Moreover there is a lack of quality standards for most of these agents. Finding an effective and safe medication for arthritis pain is a complex task that may take years. Trying to shortcut standard practices may lead to harmful effects and wasted money, time and effort.
Another common misconception about arthritic illnesses is that it is caused by poor diet or can be aggravated by eating curd, rice or the so-called cold things. However there is no scientific basis to this belief. Apart from gout (attacks of which can be precipitated by certain diets like red meat, alchohol etc.) & celiac disease there is no proven connection between a particular food source and arthritis. However the importance of a balanced diet cannot be overemphasized irrespective of whether you are suffering from arthritis or not. Weight control is especially important for people with arthritis, because being overweight puts added stress on your arthritic joints.
Rheumatologist is a physician who is an expert in musculoskeletal & joint disorders including arthritis. You need to consult your doctor if any of these warning signs occur to determine if you are suffering from symptoms of arthritis and the type of arthritic illness you have:
Persistent pain, stiffness on arising
Pain, tenderness or swelling in one or more joints.
Persistent pain, stiffness in neck, back, knees or other joints
By consulting your doctor immediately an effective treatment plan can be formulated to protect the joints and lessen the symptoms.
Remember that arthritis is one of the most important causes of disability in the world. It makes activities of daily living painful and difficult. If you find it hard to get through the tasks in your day, arthritis may be the reason.
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