What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a term used to describe a variety of conditions that cause pain in the joints. Arthritis is most common in people over the age of 65, although it affects people of all ages including children. There are over 100 different kinds of arthritis and related conditions that affect over 50 million adults in the United States. The most commonly diagnosed condition is osteoarthritis, which is what most people refer to when they talk about “arthritis.” This painful condition is characterized by inflammation in any of the joints, resulting in swelling, pain, and stiffness. Osteoarthritis develops because of general wear and tear on a person’s joints where the cushioning surface on the ends of bones wears away and the unprotected area rubs against bone, causing swelling, pain, and stiffness. Common risk factors for the disease include family history of the disease, physically challenging careers, and participating in athletic activities.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
Diagnosis begins with a physical exam, including collecting your full medical history and a list of any medications used. Your doctor may order X-rays, imaging procedures like CAT scans or MRIs, blood tests, and/ or joint aspiration to diagnose the specific kind of arthritis. During joint aspiration, fluid from inside the joint is extracted with a syringe so that it can be tested to determine the specific condition. For example, joint aspirations can reveal if the symptoms are related to gout or rheumatoid arthritis. Joint fluid is also tested for a white cell count, the formation of crystals, protein, and glucose, which can help to determine the cause of a particular type of arthritis.
How is arthritis pain treated?
Depending on the results of the tests, your doctor at Maiden Lane Medical creates a customized treatment plan to relieve your symptoms. Your plan may include a variety of short and long-term treatments to address the specific type of arthritis that has been diagnosed. In most cases, treatment begins with a conservative approach suggesting:
- Hot and cold compresses
- Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Regular exercise to stimulate mobility
- A TENS machine: Uses low voltage electric current for pain relief
- Corticosteroids or anti-rheumatic drugs
- Splints or braces to support the affected joint
When arthritis causes the joint to deteriorate to the point where a replacement is necessary, the doctor may suggest surgery to replace the joint.