Did you know that arthritis is a term used to describe more than 100 different diseases that affect areas in and around your joints? And more than 46 million adults in the United States suffer from this disease?
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is an inflammation of a joint, usually accompanied by pain, swelling and stiffness. It generally results from an infection, trauma, degenerative changes or other causes. It occurs in various forms such as bacterial arthritis, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. For purposes of this page, we will focus on osteoarthritis, by far, the most common form of arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease where the cartilage (tough elastic material) that covers and protects the ends of bones in joints, deteriorates. This usually causes inflammation in the joint area, which results in pain, stiffness and loss of movement usually from bone rubbing on bone. Joints most affected by osteoarthritis include hips, knees, hands and spine.
Exact causes are still unknown. However, a number of factors may contribute to your risk of developing the disease and include:
Warning signs of the disease
If you have any of the symptoms listed below for more than two weeks, you should see your primary care doctor for a check up.
Based on your medical and family history, your physician will probably order x-rays and other blood tests to determine whether you have arthritis and if so, the specific type of arthritis. Alternatively, your primary care doctor may refer you to an arthritis specialist called a rheumatologist. Other professionals who have been trained to care for people with arthritis may include internists, physiatrists, orthopedists, podiatrists and physical and occupational therapists.
What you can do if you have arthritis
Even though there is no cure for arthritis, early diagnosis and treatment can mean less joint damage and less pain. Your doctor may recommend a combination of treatments, such as:
Exercise: Moderate physical activity is beneficial in decreasing fatigue, strengthening muscles and bones, increasing flexibility and stamina and improving a person’s overall sense of well being. It is essential to check with a health care professional before beginning an exercise program.
Diet: A proper, well-balanced diet is an important part of overall good health.
Lowering your intake of sugar, fat, salt and alcohol is very important because it will help you to lower your health risks and control your weight. Reducing excess weight will reduce the stress on your joints and can help lessen the pain associated with some forms of arthritis.
Assistive Devices: If you find your arthritis is limiting your ability to perform daily living activities, such as walking or brushing your teeth, your doctor, therapist or other health care professional can recommend devices to assist you. There are canes, shoe orthotics, knee braces or wide-grip or extended-length devices to help you complete tasks.
Medication: There are several medications available to help reduce pain associated with arthritis. Depending on your specific condition, your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug to reduce swelling in the joints. It may be in pill form or an external cream or ointment that can be applied to the affected area for temporary relief. Although some medications for arthritis are available without a prescription, it is very important to consult with your physician before taking any medications to make sure there is no conflict with other medications you are taking.
Surgery: If you have severe osteoarthritis pain in your hip or knee that has not responded to drug or other therapies, your physician or health care professional may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon to discuss an option for treatment, including joint injection or surgery.
Where You Can Get the Care You Need
You should always start with your primary care doctor or a specialist trained to treat arthritis. The physician’s role is to diagnose your specific condition and develop a treatment plan that will work for you.
For those people who can benefit from ongoing care, there are a number of programs that are designed to provide continuing health care services and support. These programs offer a coordinated care team of professionals that include nurses, dieticians, social workers and therapists – all working with your doctor to make sure you get the care you need in a structured and medically supervised program.
Listed below are a few kinds of programs available right in your neighborhood, most of which accept Medicaid.
Adult Day Health Care: For older adults who are at home all day and would like to have an opportunity to socialize while being in a medically supervised environment, an Adult Day Health Care program provides experienced professionals who can take care of daily health needs, including monitoring blood glucose levels and helping with medications.
Home Health Care: Designed for people whose medical conditions make it difficult for them to leave their homes. Home care provides a complete team of health care professionals that come directly to their home and provide care in accordance with an appropriate treatment plan as directed by their doctor.
Residential Facilities: Offering services to people who need either short-term or long-term 24-hour skilled nursing supervision, rehabilitation or help with daily living activities.
*Information obtained from the Arthritis Foundation.