A diagnosis of degenerative arthritis may be confusing. Also known and more commonly heard as osteoarthritis, excessive “wear and tear” on joints (particularly in the neck, lower back, knees, and hips), can cause progressive degenerative damage. As we age, women are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis.
Bones are usually covered at the ends with cartilage which allows them to move smoothly with other bones at joint areas. When the cartilage is worn away, it can cause a lot of pain and inflammation at the joints. Bone spurs also may develop and cause inflexibility of the joint. A previously weakened joint, often caused by injury is a likely spot where osteoarthritis may develop.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis can range from mild to disabling, and those affected experience pain, inflammation, tenderness, stiffness, loss of flexibility, and/or a grating sensation. Pain may be worse in the morning and improve with activity, but later could flare up with over-use. Some questions to ask your doctor about osteoarthritis might include:
- How is osteoarthritis diagnosed? You doctor will consult your medical history, perform a physical examination, or laboratory tests (blood, joint fluid, etc.), and possibly x-rays or an MRI to find an accurate diagnosis. X-rays could be used to identify the extent of damage to joints.
- But I’m not old. How can I have osteoarthritis? When a young person is suspected of having osteoarthritis, they may be tested for a condition called hemochromatosis, where too much iron is present in the blood, causing damage to joints and other organ systems. Iron levels can be managed by blood draw (blood is disposed and not used for others).
- How is osteoarthritis treated? Non-surgical methods of dealing with osteoarthritis include lifestyle modifications (increasing low-impact activity, and/or weight loss), medication (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and/or dietary supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, or vitamins D and C). In more severe cases, surgery (arthroscopy, osteotomy, joint fusion, joint replacement) may be necessary to improve patient quality of life. Acupuncture also may relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis.
- What is the long-term risk? Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease and usually worsens over time. Pain may increase to make daily life difficult urging the need for joint replacement or other surgical methods.
- What information should I share with my doctor if I suspect osteoarthritis? It is important to keep track of symptoms, medications and supplements, what seems to help or worsen your condition, personal and family medical history, and share it with your doctor.
- Can osteoarthritis be prevented? There is no known preventation for osteoarthritis, but it is possible to avoid further damage to joints with early treatment. It is also important to maintain an ideal weight to decrease the risk of further damage to joints.
- What can I do at home to help my condition? Doctors recommend getting plenty of rest and low-impact exercise to help strengthen muscles around your joints. If just starting to exercise, try taking a short walk and building up your distance, or try swimming or a gentle water aerobics class. It also may be a good idea to work with your doctor to develop a weight loss program that can help lessen stress on damaged joints. Apply heat or cold (don’t use cold if you have poor circulation or numbness) to inflamed joints. Over the counter pain creams may also help manage pain.
- Is there any research I can do on my own and which sources would you recommend? Your doctor can suggest their favorite websites and/or support groups for obtaining more information and helping you cope with osteoarthritis.
www.mayoclinic.com/health/arthritis Degenerative Arthritis
www.arthritis.about.com Degenerative Arthritis
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