Arthritis literally means "joint inflammation". According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are more than 100 different diseases that produce joint pain and inflammation - everything from the flu to certain cancers. But when people say "arthritis", they usually mean osteoarthritis.
Causes of Arthritis
Arthritis can arise on its own, but is also often caused by other conditions such as colitis, psoriasis, or gonorrhea. Osteoarthritis is caused by excessive wear and tear on the joints over time, which wears away the protective cartilage around these joints. As a result, bare bone is exposed on the joint, causing pain. Obesity often contributes to osteoarthritis, as the excess weight places added stress on joints in the lower back, knees, and hips (which bear the most weight). Another contributing factor to osteoarthritis is a lack of physical activity. If unused, the muscles around the joints tend to become weaker and less flexible, increasing the risk of injury and of osteoarthritis. Finally, osteoarthritis may also be caused by inflammatory diseases and congenital joint deformities.
Types of Arthritis
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common types of arthritis, though there are more than 100 different variations of the affliction. For example, spondylitis is an inflammation of the spine, while scleroderma is a disease which causes skin to thicken and harden. Osteoarthritis, the most common type, is caused by excessive wear and tear on the joints over time. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks itself, and individuals usually suffer arthritis in the fingers, wrists, shoulders, knees, hips, and neck. Women are much more likely to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis than men, and it usually develops in early adulthood or middle age.
Prevention of Arthritis
The chances of preventing osteoarthritis may be helped by in a number of different ways, mostly having to do with maintaining good health. Individuals should avoid being overweight, which puts too much stress on their weight-bearing joints. Serious bodily injuries also threaten to cause osteoarthritis later in life. Specifically, ligament damage may cause instability of the joint and injure cartilage that may never heal properly. Additionally, limb fractures and ACL tears or knee and hip injuries tend to greatly increase the likelihood of osteoarthritis later in life. Injuries to the upper part of the body are not as much of an issue, as these parts do not bear as much weight as the lower body.
Avoiding gout may also help prevent the development of osteoarthritis. Individuals develop gout when uric acid builds up in the body and crystallizes in the joints, most often in the big toes, and causes pain and inflammation. Normally, uric acid is a protein waste excreted in urine, but gout may occur when the body is overproducing uric acid or the kidneys are failing to effectively eliminate uric acid from the body. Consuming large amounts of alcohol, organ meats, herring, anchovies, and sardines increase the production of uric acid and thus may increase the likelihood of gout.
Symptoms of Arthritis
Arthritis symptoms vary greatly from person to person, ranging from mild aches and pains to deformity.
How Arthritis is diagnosed
Early diagnosis of arthritis is of vital importance, as if the disease is diagnosed at an early stage, destruction of the joints may be prevented or at least slowed. Arthritis is usually diagnosed when a doctor notices the physical symptoms of the disease, including fluid around the arthritic joint, swelling, tenderness, and pain. Joints may also be X-rayed to determine the seriousness of the condition, while blood and urine tests may be performed as well.
Arthritis Possible Treatments
Arthritis may be treated through surgery which fuses, repositions, smoothes, or replaces bones and joints. Drugs that contain acetaminophen may be taken to reduce pain, while anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen stop inflammation and also relieve pain. For a short-term solution, corticosteroids may be taken to reduce inflammation and treat pain of an acute arthritic attack.
Leading a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise, helps to prevent arthritis and may also help treat the disease. Maintaining a healthy weight helps keep pressure off of the body’s joints and reduce arthritic symptoms. Exercise strengthens the muscles around the joints and improves flexibility. Individuals with arthritis should consult a doctor to identify the types of physical activity which will help treat their arthritic condition, as opposed to aggravating the symptoms. Common exercises prescribed by doctors include walking, swimming, cycling, and range-of-motion exercises.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has been used for more than 2,000 years to relieve arthritis pain. Urtication, the process of stinging one’s self with the nettle, is often practiced by musicians to help relieve pain in their hands caused by continuous playing of their instruments. While some of the relief provided by urtication is from the psychological irritation of the sting distracting from the arthritis, stinging nettles also contain chemicals with anti-inflammatory properties.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and turmeric (Curcurma longa) have long been used to reduce pain and swelling that results from arthritis. Both may be used in teas or in regular cooking. Pineapple (Ananas comosus) contains a chemical called bromelain that is thought to prevent inflammation. Bromelain also helps the body get rid of immune antigen complex and fibrin, which are compounds suspected of helping cause arthritis. Red chili peppers (Capsicum) contain a chemical called capsaicin which triggers the release of endorphins in the body, which dull pain, including that caused by arthritis. Red pepper also contains salicylates, which have similar pain-relieving effects to aspirin. Red pepper may be used by preparing it in spicy food dishes, mixing it into tomato juice, making it into a tea, and applying it to the skin (creams may be purchased over the counter at most drugstores).
Willow (Salix), garlic (Allium Sativum) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) may be mixed together as a tea to help treat arthritis. The willow contains a chemical called salicin which has pain-relieving properties, and is the same chemical which Bayer uses to create aspirin. Licorice is necessary because it negates possible stomach-upsetting side effects that are often caused by the willow (additionally, licorice is an anti-inflammatory). Finally, garlic helps to reduce blood pressure, important because prolonged use of licorice may end up raising an individual’s blood pressure.
Brazil nuts (Bertholettia excelsa) and sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuu) both contain S-adenosyl-methionine (known as SAM), which has chemical properties similar to that of ibuprofen. While both contain low amounts of SAM as compared to ibuprofen, their addition to a balanced diet could be a good thing for many sufferers of arthritis. Another beneficial compound for sufferers of arthritis is gluthiaone, an antioxidant found in broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, and watermelon. Finally, individuals should make sure they get sufficient amounts of vitamins A, B1, B3, B6, C, E, and the mineral Boron (which helps the body absorb Calcium).
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