Osteoarthritis: Symptoms, Treatment

Overview

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic joint disease caused by cartilage degeneration. Sometimes it is also called degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis. OA can affect any joint, but it occurs most often in knees, hips, lower back and neck, small joints of the fingers and the bases of the thumb and big toe.

In the United States, OA affects about 27 million people. Age, gene and injury can play a role in the disease. All races appear equally affected. A higher incidence of OA exists in the Japanese population, while South-African blacks, East Indians, and Southern Chinese have lower rates.

Causes

In normal joints, a firm, rubbery material called cartilage covers the end of each bone. Cartilage provides a smooth, gliding surface for joint motion and acts as a cushion between the bones. When the cartilage breaks down, OA would occur, causing pain, swelling and problems moving the joint.

Factors that may cause this condition are as follows.

Gene mutation leading to misalignments of bones

Age

The risk of OA increases with age.

Sex

Women are more likely to develop OA.

Joint injuries

Injuries, such as those that occur when playing sports or from an accident, may increase the risk of OA.

Obesity

Increased weight may put excess stress on weight-bearing joints, such as your hips and knees. In addition, fat tissue produces proteins that may cause harmful inflammation in your joints.

Certain occupations

If your job involves tasks that place repetitive stress on a particular joint, that joint may eventually develop OA.

Symptoms

OA symptoms can vary greatly among individuals. They often develop slowly and may worsen over time. General signs and symptoms of OA include:

  • Pain, stiffness and inflammation in the affected joints
  • Tenderness of the joints
  • Loss of function of the joint
  • Joint creaking or cracking sound when moving
  • joint locking or joint instability

Diagnosis

To diagnose OA, the doctor will first collect information on personal and family medical history, and then perform a physical exam to check the joints and the range of motion.

Although there is no blood test for osteoarthritis, certain tests may help rule out other causes of joint pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Other methods that can help confirm the diagnosis include:

  • Joint aspiration.

The doctor will numb the affected area and insert a needle into the joint to withdraw fluid. The fluid will be examined for evidence of crystals or joint deterioration. This test can help rule out other medical conditions or other forms of arthritis.

  • X-ray.

X-rays can show damage and other changes related to OA to confirm the diagnosis.

  • MRI.

It is more expensive than X-rays but will provide a view that offers better images of cartilage and other structures to detect early abnormalities.

Treatment

The type of treatment that will help you the most will largely depend on the severity of your symptoms and their affected areas. Often, lifestyle changes and over-the-counter (OTC) medication will be enough to relieve your pain, stiffness, and swelling, and improve joint mobility and flexibility.

Home remedies and lifestyle changes for OA include:

  • Exercise.

Physical activity can strengthen the muscles around your joints and may help relieve stiffness. Choose gentle, low-impact activities, such as walking or swimming. Tai chi and yoga can also improve joint flexibility and help with pain management.

  • Weight Management.

Losing weight can help people with OA reduce pain and limit further joint damage. The basic rule for losing weight is to eat fewer calories and increase physical activity.

  • Adequate sleep to reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Use heat and cold to manage pain.

Both heat and cold can relieve pain in your joint. Heat also relieves stiffness, and cold can relieve muscle spasms and pain.

Pain and anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce the symptoms. They include:

Besides, many over-the-counter nutrition supplements have been used for OA treatment. Most lack good research data to support their effectiveness and safety. The most widely used are calcium, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. To ensure safety and avoid drug interactions, consult your doctor or pharmacist before using any of these supplements.

In very severe cases, joint surgery can repair or replace damaged joints, especially hips or knees.


Keyword: osteoarthritis (OA).

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.