What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is widespread but is not well understood. It is not a single disease; rather it is an informal way to point out towards joint inflammation that results in chronic pain. Arthritis is a rheumatic condition with nearly 100 variations. While rheumatic diseases affect all the supporting structures of the body such as joints, tendons, connecting tissues, bones, and muscles; Arthritis mainly deals with joint related conditions. Osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid-Arthritis are the two most common types of Arthritis.
It can affect anybody irrespective of the age and gender. In India, it is increasing at an alarming rate of more than 180 million already being diagnosed. Out of all the joint conditions, Osteoarthritis has the highest prevalence – 15 million annual cases, with a higher ratio in elderly women.
What are the Symptoms of Arthritis?
Symptoms are not static – they may be mild, moderate, or severe from time to time. Sometimes, the symptoms can continue to be the same for years, or grow very slowly and then they may increase and get worsened eventually.
- Swelling, pain, and stiffness in joints.
- Reduced range of motion.
- Redness of the skin and a feeling of warmth around the inflamed joint.
- Usually, the symptoms are worse in the evening.
- People with severe arthritis experience chronic pain, become unable to do usual activities and face difficulties in walking or climbing stairs.
- It can change the look of the joints and may give rise to uneven finger joints, but these can only be seen on X-ray.
In the case of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – an autoimmune disease, inflammation affects the working of the immune response. Symptoms are worse in the morning.
- This leads to fatigue and loss of appetite.
- Weight loss.
- Lumps under the skin, hands, and elbows
- The red blood cell count decreases with the presence of mild fever.
- Dry eyes and mouth.
- Ignorance and late treatment of RA can cause deformity in joints.
What causes Arthritis?
A flexible connective tissue known as cartilage is present in the joints. It guards the joints by absorbing the pressure and shock produced when you do movement and put pressure on them. If there is a reduction of cartilage tissues in your joints, you will observe symptoms of arthritis.
OA (Osteoarthritis) occurs due to normal wear and tear of the tissues and also by aging. An injury or infection in the joints will worsen this natural collapse of cartilage tissue. In most of the cases, OA develops due to hereditary factors.
RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) affects the synovium (a soft tissue in your joints), which generates a fluid that nourishes the cartilage and lubricates the joints. As a result of RA, the cartilage present in the joints gets destroyed. This is an autoimmune disorder, i.e. when the immune system of your body attacks the body’s tissues, this problem occurs. In RA, both bone and cartilage present in the joints get destroyed. Triggers and Causes of RA:
- Genetic markers
- Certain viruses or bacteria
- Gut Dysbiosis
Psoriatic Arthritis happens in people that are suffering from the inflammatory skin disorder Psoriasis. Psoriasis, which also appears in multiple ways primarily affects the skin leading to red and white patches, scales, and rashes. Psoriatic-Arthritis affects the skin, joints, and tissues. Its prime areas of the target are the fingers and toes, leading to pitting and discoloration of the nails. Sometimes, it may be accompanied by Spondylitis. This is an extreme case of inflammation and toxins deposition, where multiple Doshas in the body get aggravated.
Types of Arthritis
There are different variations of arthritis and each type affects the joints in a different way. Besides joints, there are some other types of arthritis that can also affect the heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, and skin.
Picture Credit: Understanding RA
Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis develops when the reduction of cartilage occurs in the joints. The cartilage is a slick, pad-like surface present on the ends of bones and when this cartilage amount decreases, the bone rubs with the other bone. Therefore you will have pain, inflammation, and hardness in the joints. If you continue in this condition, your joints can lose strength and pain may become persistent. Obesity, aging, hereditary factors, and joint injuries are some risk factors that cause or trigger osteoarthritis.
In earlier stages of osteoarthritis, the symptoms are mild and you can manage them by:
- by hot and cold therapies
- regular physical activity
- Keeping a balance between activity and rest
- maintaining a healthy weight
- giving support to the muscles around the joints
- taking help of assistive devices
- using over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medicines
- avoiding more recurring movements
When the joint symptoms are severe and by that, you have limited mobility, some of the above management strategies may be useful, but mostly you may need a joint replacement.
Our immune system protects the body and maintains the body. It helps reduce internal infection and prevents disease. But, sometimes the immune system goes wrong and by mistake attacks the joints with uncontrolled inflammation, leading to joint wearing down and may harm internal organs, such as eyes and other parts of the body. The examples of this type of arthritis are Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
There are some bacterium, virus or fungus enter in the joints and trigger inflammation. Some examples of bacterias are salmonella and Shigella (cause food poisoning or contamination), chlamydia and gonorrhea (cause sexually transmitted diseases) and hepatitis C (leads to a blood-to-blood infection, mainly through shared needles or transfusions). Mostly treatment with antibiotics can cure the joint infection, but sometimes it is difficult to cure chronic arthritis.
Our body creates uric acid after breaking down urines. This is present in human cells and in many foods. When your body produces more uric acid naturally than the required amount or the body fails to clear them quickly, you will have high levels of uric acid. Sometimes the uric acid creates needle-like crystals in the joint which give rise to extreme joint pain or a gout attack. Gout can rise and fall in periods or, if the uric acid levels aren’t managed, it will be chronic, causing constant pain and disability.
Treatment of Arthritis
In western medicine, Arthritis is treated by reducing the amount of pain the patient experiences. Some people use a heating pad and ice packs to get relaxed. Others use mobility assistance devices, such as walkers or canes to reduce pressure from sore joints. Besides these, you need to improve your joint function through physical activity. You may need different treatment methods simultaneously to get the best results.
There are multiple medications such as Analgesics, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and Menthol or capsaicin balms to reduce/remove the pain. However, they only remove the symptoms and do not address the cause behind it.
A lifestyle related inflammatory disorder, Arthritis can be managed and often reversed with suitable changes in lifestyle and diet. In Ayurveda, rheumatism has been widely described with different variations and hence specific treatments. Fasting, dietary modifications, herbal medications, and physical activity together constitute a typical Ayurvedic solution that is specified per the body type of patient.
We will share Ayurvedic perspective on Arthritis in our upcoming posts, stay tuned.