Arthritis comes in many forms and has many symptoms.This winter in Melbourne has been brutal. Cold, windy and damp. Further, looking around you can see many elderly people struggling to walk. Also, they appear to be in constant pain. Many also resort to walking sticks. Additionally, the mood has been sombre, not many smiling faces. One common problem is arthritis.
One of the most common types of arthritis is osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. This causes pain, stiffness and swelling around one or more joints in the body. Osteoarthritis usually lasts longer than two weeks and can involve any joint, but usually occurs in hands and in weight bearing joints such as hips, knees, feet and spine.
Determining the cause of osteoarthritis can be difficult. Mainly because often several factors contribute to an individual developing this common problem. Some possible causes could be genetics, old age or excess body weight. Also previous injury causing joint damage, occupations such as construction or assembly line workers, high level sports and illness. You can learn more about Osteoarthritis on the Government’s Health Direct website.
Another common form is rheumatoid arthritis. However, this type is an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis causes redness, pain, swelling or a warm feeling in the lining of a joint. The inflammation may also affect other internal organs, such as the eyes, lungs or heart. It can affect any joint, but the most commonly affected are in the hands, wrists and feet. You can learn more about Rheumatoid Arthritis on the Government’s Health Direct website.
What are the key differences between the two?
There are a few key differences between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis:
- Stiffness in osteoarthritis tends to be brief while the stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis is worse after rest and often lasts 30 minutes or longer.
- Osteoarthritis typically affects larger, weight-bearing joints, such as the knees and hips. Rheumatoid arthritis more often affects smaller joints of the hands, wrists and feet.
- Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the knuckles.
Once known as the ‘drinkers’ disease’! Gout is caused by too much uric acid in the body not being adequately flushed out by the kidneys. Each of these diseases affecting joints have different symptoms. Here are some signs to look out for when suspecting an elderly loved one is developing arthritis:
- stiffness after prolonged rest
- pain in a joint during or after use
- discomfort in a joint before or during change in weather
- swelling or loss of flexibility in a joint
- bony lumps that develop on the end or middle joint of the fingers
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
- pain and swelling in smaller joints of the hands and feet
- overall aching or stiffness, especially after sleeping
- joints that are swollen, painful and warm to the touch
- joint pain and swelling
- acute joint inflammation with heat and redness
- accumulation of uric acid or urate crystals in the joints
What to do
When diagnosing any form of arthritis, doctors will first conduct a physical examination to determine which joints are affected. In the case of osteoarthritis, joints will be painful if moved to extremes and may be thicker than normal.
If painful joints involve both sides of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is more likely to be diagnosed. Furthermore, lab tests will confirm this. Special blood tests are available to detect an antibody called rheumatoid factor which may confirm the presence of rheumatoid arthritis. Other blood tests may be used to detect the presence of other forms of arthritis such as gout or lupus. X-rays may also show bone spurs in joints and may also be used to follow the progression of arthritis over time. It’s crucial to diagnose arthritis in its early stages to effectively treat it.