What is Arthritis?

Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints. This condition can occur in small joints such as the fingers and large joints such as the hip or knee, which could lead to pain, swelling, stiffness or deformity, eventually resulting in decreased range of motion.

There are two common types of arthritis:

  • Osteoarthritis, the most common form
  • Rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease caused by gradual wear and tear of the cartilage surface of a joint. Although osteoarthritis is usually an ageing-related disease, young people can also be subject to the condition due to overuse and previous sports injuries.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory arthritis are caused by an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks patient’s body instead of protecting it, causing inflammation of the joints.

Osteoarthritis worsens with activity as the day progresses. By the evening, the patient is likely to have a dull ache in the affected joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects more than one joint in the hand and feet, causing stiffness and pain at the joints in the morning, which could be loosened up after exercising them.

Other symptoms of arthritis include:

  • A sensation of grating or grinding in the affected joint caused by rubbing of the damaged cartilage surfaces (crepitation)
  • Changes in surrounding joints
  • Cysts in hand that may cause ridging or dents in the nail plate of the affected finger
  • Pain
  • Stiffness of the affected joints
  • Swelling of the affected joints
  • Warmth — the joint may feel warm to the touch

Treatments may include:

  • Exercise — to help stabilise joints by maintaining the strength of muscles and ligaments
  • Drugs:
    • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs for rheumatoid arthritis
    • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) to reduce pain, swelling and stiffness in osteoarthritis
    • Occasional direct injection of hyaluronic acid or steroid into a joint to relieve pain and swelling
  • Physiotherapy — for exercises to stabilise joints
  • Surgery — to correct joint deformity or replace a badly damaged joint

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect many organs in patient’s body. Therefore, treatment is important for preventing anaemia, fibrosis of the lung, risk of heart attacks and strokes and some cancers.

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