A full guide to Arthritis: All you need to know

Arthritis is a common condition among the population in the UK. In 2018 there were about 66.44 million people in the UK. At the same time, about 10 million were suffering from a form of arthritis.

That is a whopping 15% of all people in the UK. The number breaks down to 6 million woman and 4 million men. And more of a third of that number is 50 years of age or older.

This guide will talk about what arthritis is and the main forms of it. I’ll cover common symptoms and when’s the time to see your doctor. I’ll also explore the causes of the condition, how it’s diagnosed and different forms of treatment.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure of arthritis as of yet. But you can make your life a lot easier and less painful by following the treatments at the end of this article. If you feel like you already know enough about arthritis and want to know some remedies feel free to scroll right to the end.

With that said, let’s jump right into it.

What is arthritis?

In a nutshell, arthritis is an inflammation in or around joints and the tissue that surrounds them. It is an informal term for joint pain or joint disease. There are over 100 different forms of arthritis with different treatment forms and causes.

The two most common forms of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and Osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause pain, swelling and stiffness in joints. It can affect all joints in the body and usually starts with the smaller ones like in the hands, wrists and feet.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a symmetrical disease which means the symptoms are often mirrored on both sides of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 400,000 people in the UK from teenage years and over.

Wooden letters spelling autoimmune disease with pills

How does it work?

In simple terms, rheumatoid arthritis is a malfunction of your immune system. It causes unnecessary inflammation inside and around the joints. To understand this better, we need to look at how a joint works first.

A joint is a meeting point for two bones. Those bones move in certain directions with some restrictions. To move around, they are connected to each other. Where the bones meet they are covered with cartilage, which is a slippery surface. The bones are held together by synovium, which contains thick fluid for protection.

When the immune system is overly active it attacks healthy joints. In case this happens the synovium produces extra fluid which is normally intended to fight infections. As there’s no infection to fight, this causes swelling and can push the joint out of shape. This extra fluid also includes chemicals which can damage the joint over time if not treated.

Scientists don’t yet know, why the immune system reacts that way. Rheumatoid arthritis causes joint damage in 80% to 85% of people. The majority of that dama occurs within the first two years.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. The condition occurs when the cartilage at the meeting point of the bones wears down over time. Part of the cartilage will thin and the surface will become rougher through wear and tear. Parts of the bones might also get exposed resulting in bone on bone contact. This condition cannot be reversed or synthetically cured.

The severity of this condition varies from person to person and can affect different joints. As osteoarthritis happens the body actually tries to heal itself. All tissues within the joint become more active and are trying to repair the worn-down cartilage. During the repair process, the joint will function as normal.

But, this process might deform the joint. This might cause swelling, pain and limitation in joint movement.

Other forms of arthritis

Fibromyalgia

This condition is not inflammation-based or related to joints only. But Fibromyalgia is a form of arthritis and a chronic condition of widespread pain and general fatigue. The pain is described as head to toe. It can affect 2% to 4% of people with women more affected.

Fibromyalgia is hard to understand as it is difficult to diagnose. As a result, there are no tests specifically for this condition. Its symptoms often resemble those of other conditions.

Book about pain management

Gout

Gout is a term used for conditions that involve the build-up of uric acid in your joints. Such build-up usually occurs in the joints of your feet, specifically your big toes.

Gout is very painful and involves swelling of the area around the joint. If gout is not treated in time, it may leave you with permanent joint damage and kidney problems.

Uric acid is a byproduct when purines are broken down in your body. Such purines are found in certain foods like

  • Red meat
  • Organ meat
  • Beans
  • Seafood

Your body normally cleans itself of uric acid. But if you don’t drink enough water or your kidneys aren’t able to eliminate it fast enough uric acid will accumulate. This happens in the form of crystals around your joints and in your kidneys.

Psoriatic Arthritis

This form of arthritis affects the proportion of people who have psoriasis. Psoriasis is a skin condition which shows as red patches topped with silvery scales. Most people will develop psoriasis first with psoriatic arthritis following 10 years thereafter.

Both diseases are chronic and will get worse over time. Psoriatic arthritis involves joint pain, stiffness and swelling around the joint area. If it is not treated in time it may be disabling.

Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are both inflammatory with an overactive immune system. The difference between the two is the skin condition that often comes with psoriatic arthritis as well as the joints affected. Psoriatic arthritis is asymmetric meaning different joints on both sides of your body can be affected.

Letter with diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis

What are the symptoms?

Depending on the form of arthritis you have your symptoms may differ. Hence why it is important to have an accurate diagnosis. Here are some common symptoms that many forms of arthritis share.

Joint stiffness

As most forms of arthritis affect joints, this is a classic arthritis condition. Depending on when during the day this stiffness appears and for how long you might have to suspect arthritis. But just because you are stiff in the morning doesn’t mean you have it. If your stiffness lasts for about an hour after you got up you should mention it to your doctor though.

Certain times when stiffness resulting from arthritis can occur:

  • In the morning (depends on how long after you get up)
  • After you’ve been sitting for a while
  • After you’ve been working out

Joint pain

Stiffness in your joints is often followed by joint pain. Pain can occur when you are moving about or when you rest. It can be constant or come and go depending on how advanced arthritis is in your body.

Swelling around the joint area

The area around your joint may appear puffy as if there is fluid inside. This is likely a result of inflammation of the joint. It might be painful when you touch it or even without touch. The skin in this area may become red and you might feel a sense of warmth in your joints.

Other symptoms

Keep an eye on your temperature when you suspect you have arthritis. You might develop some light fever. You also might find yourself unable to bend or straighten some joints as your range of motions decreases. Depending on the inflammation around your joints this can cause pressure on your nerves resulting in numbness and tingling.

When should you see a doctor?

If your symptoms last anywhere longer than 3 days or more, you should see your doctor and tell her about them. In case the symptoms subside but appear several times a month you should also consult a doctor.

It is important you get an accurate diagnosis in time. Some forms of arthritis can leave you with long-term joint damage or disablement if you’re without treatment for a longer period.

Even though arthritis cannot be cured, your symptoms can be managed and alleviated. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice some activities in your life just because of arthritis when there are methods to ease your symptoms.

What causes arthritis?

There is no single cause for all forms of arthritis. Depending on the type of arthritis you have the causes might differ. It is worthwhile noting that arthritis always has a range of causes and sometimes there’s no obvious cause at all. This makes this disease so unpredictable in its nature.

Some common causes of arthritis include

  • Genetics and inheritance
  • Injury
  • Infections
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Abnormal metabolism

Diets and certain foods are not linked to arthritis as causes. But hey can help in managing the symptoms. Some foods can make symptoms worse hence it’s best to omit those from your diet. But more on that further below under treatments.

Doctor giving diagnosis to patient

How is arthritis diagnosed?

After you meet with your doctor he or she will examine the history of your symptoms. The more details you can provide about those symptoms the easier it is for your doctor to make a correct diagnosis and assessment. Hence why it is so important to start documenting certain symptoms when they start.

Your doctor will also assess your joints for any swelling, deformation and inflammation. He or she should also ask you about other areas of your body that might be affected.

In addition, health professionals might ask you to do blood, urine or X-ray tests.

Your doctor will give you a diagnosis based on a pattern of symptoms. Never is arthritis diagnosed just based on one symptom only. You might have to visit your doctor’s practice several times for him or her to collect all the data necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

How is arthritis treated?

There are several ways you can treat arthritis. Treatments can be grouped into natural remedies and medication. Sometimes surgery can be an option as well to correct joint damage but this is an exception.

Natural remedies

Self management

There are a few things you can do yourself to ease the symptoms of arthritis. Keeping physically fit is one of them. Exercise is beneficial not only for managing arthritis but also for your overall health. Joint friendly activities include

  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Walking

Regular exercise also ensures you are maintaining a healthy weight. If you are overweight try and lose a few pounds. Less body weight means less pressure on your joints. By the way, we are talking 10 pounds or more of excess weight. Don’t fret about your body weight if you are only slightly over your normal range. There are other things that you can focus on which are more beneficial.

Sleep is also an important factor when it comes to arthritis. A healthy sleep hygiene will help you ease arthritis pain and combat fatigue. If you have problems with your sleep here are tips to improve your sleep hygiene and sleep better.

To see if your symptoms subside keep a journal and stay organized. If you have more information about your symptoms you can figure out easier if certain treatments work or not. This also helps your doctor in suggesting new treatments for you.

Your diet

What you eat can have an impact on the severity of your symptoms. Fatty fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, has shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. Fish is also a good source of Vitamin D. A deficiency of Vitamin D has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis.

The NHS in the UK recommends eating fish twice a week whereas one meal should include fatty fish.

High-quality olive oil is also well known for its anti-inflammatory properties as are walnuts.

Two grilled mackerels with rosemary and grilled potatoes

Keeping healthy fatty foods in your diet that include omega-3 fatty acids may have a beneficial effect on your arthritis symptoms. One study linked a higher omega-3 fatty acid intake to a reduction in pain resulting from arthritis. Furthermore, patients were able to reduce their intake of medication.

Drink plenty of water and avoid getting dehydrated. Water also helps to flush out uric acid.

Should I avoid certain foods?

There is no universally accepted list of foods you should avoid when you suffer from arthritis. The exception to that is if you suffer from gout. In that case, you should avoid foods that contain purines which cause an increased amount of uric acid. Such foods are

  • Seafood, in particular, shellfish
  • Organ meats
  • Beer
  • Red meat

Drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks and fructose-rich juices may be linked to an increased risk of gout. So leave those out of your diet.

In general, if you suffer from arthritis, you’d want to cut out all inflammatory foods and replace them with anti-inflammatory foods. If you decide to follow a diet there is no one size fits all. Any diet will likely have to be tweaked over time as you discover how your body reacts to certain foods.

CBD

CBD is short for cannabidiol and is an active compound found in cannabis plants. Unlike THC, CBD is non-intoxicating and can legally be bought in most countries. Most CBD products are made using CBD derived from hemp. For a cannabis plant to be categorized as hemp it can only contain less than 0.3% of THC.

There have been several studies linking CBD to prevent the pain from arthritis. CBD has also been linked to managing chronic pain which is difficult to treat.

CBD is safe to use due to its safety profile. There are few side effects of the compound which are not severe. Due to this CBD is often preferred to normal medicational treatment.

Person putting CBD oil into cup

Medication

Too much and too strong medication often comes with severe side effects. The type of medication you will get prescribed by your doctor will differ depending on which type of arthritis has been diagnosed.

Common types of medication include

  • Painkillers
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • Counterirritants
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Conclusion

Even though arthritis cannot be cured there are quite a few things you can do to ease your symptoms. If you do suspect you have arthritis you should go and talk to your doctor.

If you are interested in natural remedies and you want to reduce your intake of medicine why not give CBD a try? Here is a more detailed overview of what CBD is to get you up to speed.

Already know what CBD is but not sure which product to buy? Here is a handy guide explaining the different options available to you and which one best suits your needs.

Do you have any tips not mentioned above on how you are managing your arthritis? Let me know in the comment section below.

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