Helping patients understand arthritis
One in five adults in the US is diagnosed with arthritis, but the use of a single term to identify this common problem does not provide a complete picture. Though it’s commonly described as pain and stiffness in and around the joints, arthritis symptoms can vary depending on the specific form of the disease.
“Arthritis is a broadly used term for a wide range of conditions that can lead to chronic joint pain and disability,” said Dr. Sajina Prabhakaran, a board certified, fellowship trained rheumatologist at Capital Health. “More than half of people with arthritis are working age, so understanding what form of it you have can help you manage your symptoms and better navigate daily living.”
The two most common forms of arthritis are:
Commonly referred to as “wear and tear arthritis,” osteoarthritis often affects middle-age to older adults. It is a disease that affects the entire joint—loss of cartilage (the cushion between the bones), worn out tendons and ligaments, and inflammation all at once.
“Osteoarthritis occurs in frequently used joints like the hands and spine or weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees,” said Dr. Prabhakaran. “And while it can be the result of stress on these joints, it can also be brought on by natural changes within the body.”
Osteoarthritis symptoms include:
- Aching, pain, and stiffnessin affected joints
- Decreased range of motion
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your body’s defense system is not working properly. A healthy immune system protects your body from outside invaders, like a cold virus or bacteria in minor cuts and scrapes. Problems with your immune system may cause it to treat healthy cells in your own body as invaders, causing the inflammation that is at the root of RA. Although the specific causes of RA are not known, the pain and swelling comes with inflamed tendons, bone erosion, and thinning of cartilage.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms include:
- Pain, aching, stiffness, tenderness, and swelling in more than one joint
- The same symptoms affecting both sides of the body (e.g. both hands or both knees)
- Weight loss
Diagnosis and treatment
Those who visit or refer to Dr. Prabhakaran at her Capital Health – Rheumatology Specialists office have access to all the cutting-edge testing and imaging technology that is available under one roof at Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell. After a patient’s condition is accurately diagnosed, Dr. Prabhakaran works with the referring provider to develop a personalized plan for care.
“Arthritis aches and pains are not necessarily a normal part of aging,” said Dr. Prabhakaran. “If you have a family history of any form of arthritis, you may be more likely to have it, but there are other risk factors that you can control. Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, and eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of arthritis and contribute to better overall health.”
Although there are no cures for osteoarthritis or RA, current treatment options (usually some combination of medication and simple exercise like walking, biking, or swimming) can offer some relief of symptoms and improved function. Anyone who suspects they may have arthritis or some related condition should consult a physician for a diagnosis.