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There are more than 100 types of arthritis. The most common types are osteoarthritis
and rheumatoid arthritis.
Lifestyle, dietary and exercise factors can help to reduce the symptoms of
arthritis. However, when pain and disability is severe, doctors will often
Who Gets Arthritis?
Around one in four Australians have some type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis and
rheumatoid arthritis are two common forms of this condition.
Arthritis or some other form of musculo-skeletal disease is experienced on a
long-term basis by more than 4,500,000 Australians.
- Younger people who develop arthritis usually do so as a result of wear and
tear on their joints (such as athletes) or injuries (such as car accidents).
Arthritis can also occur in younger people in association with other medical
conditions such as psoriasis.
- There are no known preventive strategies for arthritis, but it is a good
idea to be physically active and take care to protect your joints from injury.
- "Arthritis" is actually a general term that covers more than 100
diseases that affect the joints, inflaming them to make movement restricted
- The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis
(also known as degenerative joint disease) and rheumatoid arthritis.
- In osteoarthritis, the cartilage "cushion" lining the inside of
a joint becomes frayed, thinned and less elastic - this leads to pain, stiffness,
and muscle weakness.
- In rheumatoid arthritis, the body's immune system, for an unknown reason,
attacks the joints and other parts of the body, producing inflammation which
can eventually cause permanent deformation of a joint.
- More common.
- Usually begins after age 40.
- Most commonly affects hips, knees, feet and spine.
- Loss of cartilage, causing pain and stiffness.
- Joints are the only parts of the body that are affected.
- Caused by heredity, obesity, overuse, injury.
- Less common.
- Usually begins between ages 25 and 50, and is more common in women.
- Most commonly affects hands and feet, wrists and elbows.
- Long-term inflammation of joints, causing warmth, swelling, pain
and redness, and later, deformation.
- Other organs can be affected - such as lungs, skin, heart.
- Caused by the immune system attacking the joint surface.
If you have any of these symptoms in a joint for more than 2 weeks, you may have
- stiffness, especially early in the morning
- recurring pain or tenderness
- inability to move it normally
- redness or warmth
- pain accompanied by unexplained weight loss, fever or weakness
What Can Be Done?
You should discuss the following options with your doctor for pain relief:
- Over-the-counter analgesics: Especially anti-inflammatories
like aspirin or ibuprofen.
- Other regular medications: Your doctor may prescribe various
other drugs depending on the type and severity of your arthritis, including
corticosteroids, penicillamine, gold salts, quinidine, and immunosuppressants.
- Cortisone injections: In times of severe painful flare-ups,
your doctor may suggest an injection of cortisone (a strong anti-inflammatory
pain-relieving drug) as a temporary treatment.
- Surgery: If medication and self-treatment (see the Practical
Tips below) don't provide relief, surgery might be recommended to remove,
replace, or realign joints.
In addition to taking any medication your doctor
prescribes, you can keep yourself active and limber by following this advice:
- Stay at a healthy weight. This is the most important thing
you can do, because being overweight puts more stress on your joints and bones
and aggravates arthritis pain.
- Eat a balanced diet. There is no specific diet for curing
or managing the symptoms of arthritis. A well balanced diet, as usual, is
important, and strict diets should be avoided.
- Exercise regularly. Walking and swimming are two particularly
good exercises for people with arthritis, and should be done frequently and
for short periods. This way you will avoid pain but prevent your muscles from
becoming weak and underused, which can cause you to lose your range of motion
and worsen the symptoms of arthritis. Avoid jarring activities such as jogging,
and stop exercising if it is causing you pain.
- Physical therapy. Sessions of physical therapy can be expensive,
but may help you stay limber.
- Protect your joints. Avoid lifting heavy objects, and use
safe lifting techniques when you have to move something heavy, Use devices
to help you perform daily tasks.
- Use heat or cold to relieve joint pain and stiffness. Many
people with arthritis find it is beneficial to use heat (such as a heating
pad or a warm bath) to joints before activity, and cold (such as an icepack)
- Don't let flare-ups get out of hand. If your symptoms get
worse than usual for a prolonged period, see your doctor for reassessment
as soon as possible.
Info & Extra Resources
Last updated: April 2nd, 2002
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