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ArthritisArthritis is the inflammation (swelling) of one or more joints in the body, which is where two bones meet. Arthritis involves the breakdown of cartilage at the joint. Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue that covers the ends of bones at the joint. Cartilage helps protects the joint by allowing bones to move smoothly over one another with the help of synovial fluid.  It is also what absorbs shock when there is pressure placed on the joint, such as when a person walks or runs. When the cartilage wears down and there is no longer a normal amount remaining at a joint, it can cause stiffness, pain and inflammation. Joint inflammation can result from:

  • an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue
  • broken bone(s) or injury
  • infection, usually from bacterial or viral infections
  • general “wear and tear” on joints as a result of age and use

When arthritis does not go away after treatment, it is considered to be chronic arthritis. Treatments for most forms of arthritis may include lifestyle changes, physical therapy, exercise, medication and/or surgeries. Arthritis isn’t just the aches and pains that a person gets as a result of getting older and is actually considered a serious disease. About two-thirds of people with arthritis are under the age of 65, including 300,000 children. It accounts for 44 million outpatient visits and 992,100 hospitalizations and is the leading cause of disability in America. In fact, out of heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined, arthritis is the most common cause of limitations to daily activities.

Arthritis is not just one disorder –  it is actually a complex group of musculoskeletal disorders that destroy joints, muscles, cartilage, bones, and other connective tissues. There are more than 100 different arthritic diseases or conditions that can affect people of all ages, genders and races. Some of the most common arthritic diseases that are common among seniors include:

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. OA is a joint disease that gets worse over time and is characterized by the breakdown of joint cartilage due to normal wear and tear and age. If the cartilage breaks down and wears away, the bones rub together. This breakdown of cartilage causes pain, swelling and stiffness. The root cause of OA is unknown but it is mainly related to the aging process. OA generally appears in middle age and prior to the age of 55, it occurs equally in women and men. However, after the age of 55, it is more likely to be seen in women. Minor symptoms of OA are commonly found in most people over the age of 70. Treatments for RA may include medications, exercise, weight control, joint protection, physical therapy (PT) and/or occupational therapy (OT). Alternative therapies such as massage, acupuncture and acupressure may be of benefit to those suffering from OA, as the improved circulation and warmth resulting from such therapies often help to relax the stressed joints. Some risk factors associated with osteoarthritis include:

  • obesity
  • family history of OA
  • muscle weakness
  • overuse
  • history of joint injury
  • age
  • specific medical conditions such as bleeding disorders, disorders that block the blood supply, pseudogout, chronic gout and rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a long-term disease that causes inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues. RA is systemic which means that it not only affects joints, but other parts of the body including some organs. When a person has RA, the membranes lining the joint become inflamed which can cause pain, warmth, swelling, stiffness and sometimes severe joint damage. The cause of RA is unknown. It is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue by mistake instead of only attacking foreign cells such as viruses and bacteria. While anyone at any age can develop RA, it becomes more prevalent in middle age and is more commonly found in women than men. Treatment may include lifestyle changes, medications, moderate exercise and weight control. Risk factors associated with rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • genetics or family history
  • infections, usually bacterial or viral
  • smoking
  • hormone changes

Gout is a complex form of inflammatory arthritis that is characterized by urate crystals accumulating in the joints and causing sudden severe attacks of pain, swelling, redness and tenderness in the joints. These attacks can last anywhere from one day to a couple of weeks if left untreated. Gout often occurs in the joint at the base of the big toe. However, gout can also affect other joints as well including the knees, hands, feet, ankles, elbows and wrists and can also impact soft tissue and tendons. It usually settles in one joint at a time but it can become progressively worse over time and begin to affect several joints. Men are more at risk of developing gout from about age 30 and up. A women’s risk of getting gout is slightly lower than that of men because women generally develop symptoms of gout only after menopause. Treatment for gout may include lifestyle changes, surgery and medication. Some risk factors associated with gout include:

  • excessive alcohol use
  • the use of certain medications such as thiazide diuretics and low-dose aspirin
  • medical conditions including hypertension (high blood pressure), bleeding disorders, narrowing of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) and high levels of fat and cholesterol in the blood (hyperlipidemia)
  • family history
  • age
  • gender

Psoriatic arthritis is a form of chronic inflammatory arthritis that occurs as a result of a chronic skin condition known as psoriasis. Psoriasis most often causes thick red, irritated skin with flaky patches (scales). Psoriasis affects about two percent of the U.S. population. Psoriasis can appear at any age, though most people are diagnosed with it between the ages of 15 and 35. Psoriatic arthritis can typically appear about ten  years after the initial onset of psoriasis. Psoriatic arthritis may cause pain, swollen and tender joints, back pain, stiffness, fatigue, redness and eye pain, reduced range of motion and changes in the fingernails. It may also cause weakening of the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Weakening of the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons may also cause joint damage. Although the cause of psoriatic arthritis is unknown, it is believed that it is an inherited condition. Treatment for psoriatic arthritis may include medication, injected corticosteroids, physical activity, surgery, and hot and cold treatments. Some risk factors associated with psoriatic arthritis include:

  • family history
  • having psoriasis

Infectious arthritis, also known as septic arthritis or bacterial arthritis, is an inflammation of the joint that is caused by a bacterial or viral infection. This type of arthritis typically affects one large joint at a time such as those in the hip or knee. However, since infectious arthritis can spread quickly, it can affect many joints all at once causing pain, stiffness and soreness. Septic arthritis is caused by a viral, fungal or bacterial infection that spreads from one part of the body to another. It is of particular concern to seniors,  as they are the ones the most at risk for infectious diseases and, therefore, more at risk for developing infectious arthritis. Seniors with weakened immune systems and/or pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, cancer, intravenous drug abuse, immune deficiency and rheumatic disorders have a higher risk of developing septic arthritis. Treatment for infectious arthritis may include antibiotics, antiviral therapies, medication, immobilization of the joint, surgery and injected corticosteroids. Those most at risk for developing infectious arthritis include:

  • children and seniors
  • those taking medications that suppress the immune system
  • intravenous drug abusers
  • alcohol abusers
  • those with past joint disease, injury or surgery
  • those with underlying medical illnesses including diabetes, rheumatic diseases, sickle cell disease  and immune deficiency disorders

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