Arthritis encompasses many different forms of pain, often affecting joints and the tissues around them. Though there are many forms of arthritis, they all cause swelling around connective tissues. Overall, arthritis and related conditions affect millions of Americans each year. Recently, a study found that 22% of the population had been diagnosed with arthritis at some point in their lives. Because it can cause serious pain, it is among the leading causes of work disability in the US today. So how can you improve your arthritis pain? Read more to learn about arthritis, and effective ways to manage the pain that it causes.
What are the different types of arthritis?
Altogether, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis. Some of the most common or larger encompassing types are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, gout, and lupus.
Osteoarthritis occurs when there is a gradual wearing or breaking down of cartilage around a joint. It often affects joints that take the most physical impact, including knees, hands, and hips. Osteoarthritis can cause swelling, pain, an aching feeling, stiffness, and a limited range of motion in the affected joint. Because osteoarthritis is brought about by too much “wear and tear” on a joint, it often affects people who are older. It can also affect those who do a lot of repetitive motion. Likewise, those who engage in activities where there is repeated impact on a joint are also at risk.
How to manage pain caused by osteoarthritis.
If the pain is mild enough, osteoarthritis can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications. Because it can be a long-term condition, doctors generally advise other lifestyle changes that can improve your joint health. These include strengthening the muscles around the affected joint, and weight loss. Speaking to your doctor often so that you can feel confident in your pain management is also a recommended strategy. In some extreme cases, osteoarthritis can be relieved through surgical procedures.
Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is not caused by physical stress on a joint. This form of arthritis is an autoimmune disease. The result is that your immune system mistakenly attacks the tissues in your body, most commonly those in your joints. Swelling and pain are associated with rheumatoid arthritis, and it can affect many joints at a time. Though less common, it can also affect other parts of your body. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause fever, fatigue, and weakness.
How to manage pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Early diagnosis is key for rheumatoid arthritis, so that treatment can begin before joints sustain lasting damage. If you suspect that you may have this disease, it’s important to speak with your doctor as soon as you can. This form of arthritis is usually treated through medication to reduce swelling which prevents joints from becoming more damaged. Lifestyle choices can also improve your joint health. Low impact activities to keep you active, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight all help in reducing the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
Unlike osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia causes pain not just in joints but all over the body. Some of the risk factors of developing the disease are traumatic events and PTSD, extreme illness, or a family history of the disease. Women are also more likely than men to develop it. Aside from pain, fibromyalgia can also cause fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, headaches, and migraines. Another symptom associated with fibromyalgia is depression. Adults who have fibromyalgia are three times as likely to develop depression that those who do not.
How to manage pain caused by fibromyalgia.
It is only in more recent years that fibromyalgia has become easier to treat and diagnose. For pain management and improving your quality of life, it is best to seek out a rheumatologist, or a doctor who specializes in fibromyalgia. Patients with fibromyalgia can be treated with prescription medications, or over-the-counter options depending on symptoms. Other treatments that can be effective for managing fibromyalgia target symptoms beyond just physical pain. Often, stress management and therapy can be beneficial in improving the mental health and sleep health issues associated with fibromyalgia.
Similar to rheumatoid arthritis, the cause of gout is also inflammation in the body. However, gout is different in that the cause is a buildup of uric acid in the body. Uric acid is made by the body to break down purines, chemical compounds that naturally occur in foods and in your body. If there is an excess of uric acid, crystals can form and build up throughout your joints and tissues. Interestingly, gout pain most often affects the big toe joint. It can also affect other toe joints, ankle joints, and knee joints. Some of the risk factors that make you more susceptible to gout include being male, being of an unhealthy weight, or having another underlying health condition. Some of these include diabetes, decreased kidney function, high blood pressure, or a heart condition.
How to manage pain caused by gout.
The pain of gout often comes in waves, where there is a period of no pain, and then a “flare-up.” These instances of pain can usually be treated with either over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, or prescription medications such as steroids. To prevent future flare-ups, there are everyday lifestyle changes that can have a big impact. Firstly, avoiding foods that are high in purine content will stop your body from over-producing uric acid. Some of the key foods to avoid include red meat and seafood. Limiting alcohol (which is also high in purine content) also helps. Staying physically active, losing excess weight, and checking in with your doctor often can also help in the overall management of gout pain.
Lupus is another autoimmune form of arthritis, where your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy parts of your body. Most people with lupus will feel pain in their joints, but it can also cause pain in other parts of the body. Lupus is usually difficult to diagnose, as it has a long list of possible symptoms that are often mistaken for other diseases. One somewhat unique symptom of lupus is a facial rash across your nose and cheeks. Sunlight can further aggravate this rash. Other symptoms associated with lupus include fatigue, kidney problems, anemia, and hair loss.
How to manage pain caused by Lupus.
Lupus is a lifelong disease, and you and your doctor’s goals should be to keep it under control to avoid flare-ups. Should you experience discomfort during flare-ups, your doctor can recommend the best pain medication for your specific needs. Other things you can do to manage lupus flare-ups include day-to-day changes in your routine and habits. One specific thing that can help people with lupus is to limit exposure to sunlight, halogen, and fluorescent lighting. Other changes you can make include eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep each night. You can also do some moderate exercise, as long as you find it doesn’t cause flare-ups in you.
The bottom line.
Many forms of arthritis use blood testing to assist with diagnosis. If you think you may have a form of arthritis, speak to your doctor or healthcare provider. They can suggest the best testing and diagnostic options for you.