Arthritis is a very common condition that affects people of all ages and from all walks of life, including children.
There are many different types of arthritis that cause a wide range of symptoms which vary depending on the type of arthritis you have. Common arthritic symptoms include:
- joint pain, tenderness and stiffness
- inflammation in and around the joints
- restricted movement of the joints
- warmth and redness of the skin over the affected joint
- weakness and muscle wasting.
Two of the most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs when the cartilage (connective tissue) between the bones gradually wastes away, leading to painful rubbing of bone on bone in the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a more severe but less common form of arthritis than osteoarthritis. It occurs when the body's immune system attacks and destroys the affected joints, causing pain and swelling to occur.
Personal story: Rheumatoid arthritis
Being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis can be both emotionally and practically challenging. Listening to others who have experienced similar situations is often re-assuring and can be helpful for you, your loved ones or when preparing questions for your doctor or a specialist.
Watch this video about a patient's experience after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
Video Copyright: ©2013 University of Oxford. Used under licence from DIPEx. All rights reserved.
There are a number of treatments that can help to slow down the condition's progress, manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
For osteoarthritis, analgesics (painkillers), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids are often prescribed. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended such as:
- arthroplasty (joint replacement)
- arthrodesis (joint fusion)
- osteotomy (where a bone is cut and re-aligned).
The aim of treating rheumatoid arthritis is to slow down the progress of the condition and minimise joint damage. Recommended treatments may include:
- analgesics (painkillers)
- disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- regular exercise.
If you have arthritis, there are a number of things you can do to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
For example, you can:
- control your weight to ease pressure on your joints
- avoid stress or injury to your joints to prevent or reduce the severity of osteoarthritis
- ensure good posture to strengthen healthy joint structure
- use physiotherapy and a walking stick or cane to help prevent your condition getting worse
- ensure that you regularly undertake weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, to help prevent osteoarthritis. This type of exercise will increase the strength of the muscles that support your joints.
Arthritis can sometimes make you less flexible and less mobile which can increase your risk of having an accident. Your doctor can refer you to an occupational therapist who will be able to advise you about equipment to assist your independent living.
Calcium-rich foods (including dairy products, nuts, seeds and fish) and foods rich in omega-3 all contribute to a healthy, balanced diet which will help manage your arthritis. They will also reduce your risk of developing health complications such as heart disease, osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones) and obesity.
Source: NHS Choices, UK (Arthritis - Living with arthritis, Arthritis - Diet)
Facts & figures
- Almost one in five Australians has arthritis and it impacts directly on more than 3.85 million people – or 18.5% of the population.
- Arthritis is the major cause of disability and pain in Australia.
- Current projections indicate there will be 7 million Australians with arthritis by 2050.
- Arthritis is not an inevitable part of getting older.
- Most people diagnosed with arthritis are of working age.
- There are more than 100 different types of arthritis.
- 1.6 million Australians are affected by osteoarthritis.
- 428,000 Australians are affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
- It is untrue that avoiding exercise will help reduce joint problems occurring in later life.
Sources: Arthritis Australia (Arthritis Facts), Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (Arthritis, osteoporosis and other musculoskeletal conditions), NHS Choices (UK) (Arthritis - Living with arthritis)