COMING to terms with what arthritis is and how it can be managed will greatly help sufferers to live a well life.
Out of the 100 forms of arthritis, which affects the body's joints causing pain and stiffness, the two most prevalent to ageing Australians are oseto and rheumatoid arthritis, while some experience from time to time the onset of gout.
It's the most common form of arthritis with two million Australians living every day with the incurable condition.
Once considered a 'wear and tear' condition, Arthritis Australia policy manager Franca Marine said there has been a significant shift in knowledge and approach to osteoarthritis. It is now considered a breakdown in the normal repair processes of a joint.
"There are lots of microtumors in the joint and it's constantly repairing itself," Ms Marine said. "It's when that repair process either gets overwhelmed, such as when you have had a traumatic injury to the joint or the constant onslaught of minor things, that's when you start to get osteo arthritis."
Osteoarthritis is diagnosed clinically by your GP.
Treatments are -
- Reduce your weight to take pressure off your joints. "Every extra kilo of weight you carry puts an extra four kilos of load on your knees," Ms Marine said. "Even minor weight loss has been shown to reduce the symptoms and pain."
- Keep physically active. "It encourages blood flow to the joints which nourishes the joints and strengthens the muscles around the joint to give them extra support," Ms Marine said. "Research shows physical activity has the same benefits as taking anti-inflammatory medicines or other pain killers, but without any of the side effects." To find out what exercise you should be doing, Ms Marine recommends you talk to a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.
The auto-immune, inflammatory and incurable condition is commonly diagnosed before the age of 50. While reducing weight and keeping physically active are part of the treatment program, so too are medications.
"The sooner you treat this condition, the better your outcomes are going to be in terms of reducing the severity of the condition in the longer term," Ms Marine said.
"If someone over 60 is experiencing stiffness in their fingers, especially if it's in both hands equally, or both feet equally, and they are particularly stiff for a long time in the morning for more than 30 minutes and their hot and swollen, they should go and see a doctor as soon as possible to eliminate the possibility of rheumatoid arthritis.
"Don't assume it's just old age."
The risks factors for this condition are smoking, which can also impede its treatment, and possibly genetics.
Diagnosis starts with a visit to a GP who will then refer you to a rheumatologist.
Ms Marine said there is no evidence to support a particular food being an arthritis trigger, but once you have the condition, turning to a healthy diet can help you manage both osteo and rheumatoid arthritis.
Anyone can get gout. It's a form of inflammatory arthritis which happens when the uric acid in your system isn't clearing quickly. "It collects in your joints and forms crystals which cause inflammation," Ms Marine said.
A GP can talk to you about treatments including diet and urate-reducing medication. When reviewing your diet, consider avoiding purine-rich foods, such as organ meats, selected seafood and beer, which can affect the intensity of gout and re-trigger it.
There is newly started research looking at the microbiomes, which are the communities of bacteria in the gut, and their possible impact on inflammatory arthritis. Ms Marine expects it take up to five years before the researchers can determine if there is a link.
Researchers are also looking at how the treatment of arthritis can be personalised. The first step is the establishment of a biobank to collect specimens from people with arthritis so that researchers can search across the specimens for markers that may impact on the development or progression of the condition.
"The data will then be matched with clinical data for that person so that you know how severe the condition is when they developed it, what the risk factors were, how they were treated, what their response to the treatment was, so that you can then try to find what is the best treatment pathway based on a person's own physical makeup," Ms Marine said.
"At the moment we don't really know which of the medicines available are going to best for a particular person. It's a bit of trial and error."
Arthritis Australia's updated website has extensive resources on arthritis diagnosis and treatments; go www.arthritisaustralia.com.au.