What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a disease that causes joint inflammation. Some forms can also affect surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments. Sometimes skin and internal organs can be affected. Arthritis affects one in every seven Americans, and occurs in people of all ages, but the risk increases as a person gets older.

Arthritis is a chronic disease. As with all chronic diseases, the most important thing to do if you have arthritis is to understand how to properly manage the condition, so that you can minimize any discomfort associated with it. There are many different forms of arthritis. The most common type is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis causes the breakdown of cartilage and bones, and affects many people’s joints as they grow older.

What causes arthritis?

The cause of arthritis is not always clear, but factors such as genetics, an imbalance in certain enzymes, infectious organisms and even the environment can be involved. Regardless of the cause, it can be very painful for those who are affected. That is why an early diagnosis and effective treatment is so important.

Do you have arthritis?

If you experience pain and swelling in the elbows, knees, knuckles, throughout the hands and fingers, or other joints that persists for six weeks to three months without subsiding, you may have arthritis. As you age, arthritis can cause joints to become stiff and it can become harder to move your hands, feet, hips and neck. The pain associated with an arthritis condition can be continuous or it can come and go. The following are some warning signs of arthritis:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Occasional swelling
  • Difficulty moving joints

For the millions of Americans who have this condition, simple everyday activities such as getting out of bed, dressing, bathing, walking or opening doors can be difficult. As the condition progresses joints may become deformed.

What treatments are available?

Although there is no “cure” for arthritis, there are several things that you can do to slow its progress and ease the pain associated with the condition. It is important to discuss all of the following options with your doctor:

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. Your doctor will advise whether or not you should exercise, and if so, which are best for your particular condition. (Always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.)

Diet. A proper diet is an important part of overall good health. You should eat a balanced diet with a variety of food types. Lowering your intake of sugar, fat, salt and alcohol is also important because it will help you to lower your overall health risks and control your weight. Reducing excess weight will reduce the stress on your joints and can help lessen the discomfort associated with some forms of arthritis.

Medication. There are several medications that can reduce the discomfort associated with arthritis. Depending on your specific condition, your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug to reduce the swelling in joints. It may be a pill, or an external cream or ointment that can be applied to the affected area for temporary relief of arthritis pain. Although some medications for arthritis are available without a prescription, it is very important to consult with your physician before taking any medications.

Where can you get the care you need?

You should always start with your family physician. The physician’s role is to diagnose your condition and develop a treatment plan that suits your needs. Some of the specialists that you may be referred to are an Internist, a Rheumatologist, a Physiatrist, a Podiatrist, an Occupational Therapist or a Physical Therapist.

For some people who can benefit from ongoing care, there are several 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 of the kinds of programs available right here in your neighborhood, most of which accept Medicaid and other insurance options.

Adult Day Health Care – For adults who are at home all day and would like to socialize, while being in a medically supervised environment. Adult day health care provides experienced professionals who can take care of daily health needs, provide physical and occupational therapies, and help with medications and other needs of someone with arthritis.

Long Term Home Health Care – Designed for people whose medical condition makes it difficult for them to leave their homes. Home care provides a complete team of health care professionals that come directly to your home and provide care in accordance with an appropriate treatment plan as directed by your doctor.

In-Residence 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. Many of these facilities are equipped to manage individuals in the advanced stages of arthritis.

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