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Arthritis As we grow older our bodies begin to degenerate, and stop working. There are many different kinds of diseases that we are subject to as we age, cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and many others. All have a negative affect on our lives, making it difficult to function.

Arthritis is the second leading chronic disease in the United States. Arthritis occurs when the body incorrectly identifies its own tissue as foreign matter and attacks it. Arthritis includes a set of more than eighty autoimmune diseases. Arthritis attacks connective tissues and joints. It causes stiffness, pain, inflammation, and swelling of the joints. Some kinds are crippling, but rarely lead to death. There are many different kinds of arthritis, the main ones being Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis; others include gout and ankylosing spodylitis. Almost everyone develops osteoarthrits as they age, some get it while in there fifties and in others it does not appear until their eighties. Osteoarthritis is the most common form that affects older people; this form of the disease wears down the cartilage mostly through overuse and injury but there are other causes. This specific form of the disease causes the cartilage to break down and the bones to rub against each other. Deformity and swelling occurs because knobs of hardened bits of cartilage develop in the joint it forms especially if a joint has been injured many times. Arthritis affects the hips, knees, spine, hands, lower back, neck, and knuckles. Osteoarthritis spreads throughout the body damaging organs and connective tissue. Osteoarthritis cannot be cured. Physicians seek only to relieve the pain and prevent the patient from becoming disabled. A surgeon may repair a severely damaged joint or replace it with a joint made of metal or plastic.

“About five percent of the people that have arthritis have Rheumatoid arthritis.”(Encyclopedia 2000) Rheumatoid arthritis affects the joints in the wrists and knuckles, though it may occur in any joint. It spreads throughout the body and damages connective tissues and organs. It will eventually, if unchecked, stiffen the joints in deformed positions. In this disease inflamed tissues erode the bones and cartilage. Rheumatoid arthritis generally occurs in a symmetrical pattern, meaning that if it occurs in one hand or knee it will also happen on the other one. The disability that comes with the crippling aspect of Rheumatoid arthritis is preventable by exercise programs, and aspirin or other drugs. A joint may be repaired or replaced, and in extreme cases a gold compound injection can be used. Rheumatoid arthritis affects three times more women than men. It strikes people of all ages, though generally those of middle age or older. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inconsistent disease. In some people, it leaves after a few months or years without leaving any noticeable damage. In other people, the symptoms persist and cause the person to be unable to function.

Gout is a hereditary disorder that occurs more frequently in men, than women. An excess of uric acid in the blood and tissues causes it. The pain is caused by crystals of acid formed under the skin and in the joints. Gout occurs when there is too little uric acid excreted or too much for the kidneys to excrete. An attack begins suddenly with severe pain and swelling in a joint and the overlaying skin becomes red and shiny. If it is untreated it can last up to seven days and further attacks are likely even after the symptoms disappear. The causes of gout are not known, but drugs and some minor injuries can bring on an attack. Gout is treated by resting the joint and the drugs sulindac, ibuprofen, naproxenm and indomethacin are prescribed for older people who suffer from this form of arthritis. If it is not treated early the condition may become chronic.

“Ankylosing spondyliits is a condition in which the bones of the spine fuse together, causing stiffness and the back can become bowed.”(Encyclopedia 2000) It occurs more frequently in men than women. It usually begins early in adult life. Early symptoms include backaches and stiffness in the morning. The patient’s eyes may become inflamed and the joints swollen and tender. Causes are not known yet, though the physicians are working on it. Exercise is important, in order to keep the spine mobile and straight. Anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed, and radiotherapy may be used in severe cases of pain and stiffness. An important aspect of treatment is Physiotherapy, breathing exercises. Although treatments differ according to the specific type of arthritis, there are some that are utilized for all types. “The first is Nonsteroidal anti-flammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which help in two ways. They relieve pain and fight inflammations. These drugs range from over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen, to more potent types available by prescription.”(Encyclopedia 2000) These have high risks of side effects ranging from mild ringing in the ears to serious gastric ulcers, kidney damage, and heart failure. The second set of drugs is “COX-2 inhibitors, which also help with pain and inflammation, but without the side effects. Some of these do not control inflammation, but only help with the pain.”(Encyclopedia 2000) “These include acetaminophen and Tramadol. An excess of these drugs can cause liver damage and nausea and constipation, respectively.”(Encyclopedia 2000) Other things that can help are keeping positive attitude, controlling weight, exercising regularly, and relaxation. By having a good attitude, studies show that patients experience less pain and have less difficulty functioning. By controlling weight, less stress is put on places where arthritis is commonly felt; hips, knees, back, and other places. Also, excess weight can make joint surgery more risky and difficult. Through exercise, weight gain is kept down and can increase strength in weakened muscles and joints. Through relaxation techniques, the patient feels less stress, which reduces feelings of helplessness and frustration. By keeping control of the arthritis, instead of letting it control them, the patient has an easier time functioning and living a normal life.


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