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ASA's Healthcare and Aging Network is discussing chronic diseases and their management, beginning with a thoughtful overview of arthritis
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Athritis: What Professionals in Aging Need to Know
There are more than 100 types of arthritis, and each type calls for a different treatment approach. Getting a proper diagnosis will help identify the specific cause for the pain and ensure proper treatment.
The four most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and fibromyalgia. This article will briefly describe each type and its recommended treatment.
Osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage—the portion of a joint that provides cushioning between the bones. As cartilage deteriorates, bones can begin to rub against each other. A person will experience stiffness and pain when using a particular joint. There is primary and secondary osteoarthritis. Primary osteoarthritis is most often from aging and the wear and tear of joints. Secondary osteoarthritis develops earlier in life and occurs 10 or more years after a specific injury, or can stem from obesity. Treatment for osteoarthritis consists of drug and non-drug therapies such as physical therapy; aerobic, muscle-strengthening and water-conditioning exercises; weight loss; use of assistive devices like a cane; use of heat and cold; and acupuncture.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of inflammatory arthritis and an autoimmune disease. In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues rather than foreign cells such as viruses and bacteria. The synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints, is the primary target of attack. As a result, fluid builds up in the joints, causing pain and inflammation throughout the body.
Treating rheumatoid arthritis early is the best approach. Treatment includes medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, and biologic agents that interrupt the inflammation process. Chiropractic medicine can also provide some relief. Some of the techniques include ultrasound therapy, trigger point therapy, “cold laser” and therapeutic exercises and stretches. Natural supplements may be useful but the research is inconclusive thus far.
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that causes sudden, severe pain, swelling and tenderness in the joints—most often in the large joint of the big toe. A gout attack can last from a few days to a couple of weeks. Gout is caused by a high level of uric acid in the blood. Management of gout includes uric-acid-lowering treatments prescribed by a physician and certain lifestyle changes such as weight reduction and diet changes.
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome characterized by chronic widespread pain and tenderness at specific points on the body. An effective treatment plan integrates several modalities that include exercise, rest, stress relief, coping skills and medications.
This post was brought to you by the editorial board of ASA’s Healthcare and Aging Network (HAN).
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