Osteoarthritis is one of the forms of arthritis and yes, it means degenerative disease in the joints where it begins with the breakdown and eventually causes loss of the cartilage (a protein that acts as a cushion between the two main bones of the joints). This disease is so common that it affects nearly 25 million of the elderly in the United States with the majority coming from African–American and Hispanic descent. Unlike Rheumatoid Arthritis, osteoarthritis does not spread to the organs of your body.
Although the symptoms vary from one person to another, you can tell if you are suffering from osteoarthritis when you experience pain and stiffness in the affected joints after repetitive use of the related bones or after long periods of inactivity. In severe cases, the total loss of cartilage causes friction between the bones, causing you to suffer pain even when you are resting.
Osteoarthritis is divided into primary and secondary type. Primary type of osteoarthritis results from the natural causes of aging. As you age, the water content in the cartilage increases while the protein substrates decreases and eventually the cartilage itself deteriorate and is lost totally.
The secondary type of osteoarthritis happens due to other diseases or conditions such as excess weight, gout, diabetes, injury/surgery to the joints, or abnormality since birth.
Suffering from osteoarthritis in the knees is usually associated with excess weight or history of repeated injury/surgery to the joints. This will lead to a continuous degeneration of the cartilage and outward curvature to the joints (also called ‘bowlegged’) or a limp which ultimately calls for a total knee replacement. If it happens on the spine (either cervical or lumbar) it can lead to pains in the neck or lower back due to irritation in the spine.
Osteoarthritis can also occur in the small joint on your fingers, making them hard and they enlarge to form Heberden's node while a common bony joint occurs in the middle joint called as Bouchard's node. These nodes can be painful while osteoarthritis on the big toe can eventually turn into an equally painful bunion.
If you suspect that you have osteoarthritis, your doctor will diagnose you by performing X– rays in the suspected joints that can be helpful to eliminate other possible causes of joint pains. A procedure called arthrocentesis can also be conducted by removing some of the joint fluid for further analysis, which may reduce pain and swelling as well.
A similar procedure called Arthroscopy may be carried out by inserting a viewing tube through the joints for examination and sometimes a surgery can also be carried out by using arthroscopy.
Currently, there are no specific treatments to hinder the progression of degenerated cartilage. The main concern is to reduce the pain as much as possible (with topical or oral medications) and improving the mobility of the joints at the same time. This can be achieved to some extent by reducing weight and avoiding activities of the related joints as much as possible.
With limited treatments available to date, your best bet is to take preventive measures to lower the risk in getting osteoarthritis such as maintaining a healthy diet with regular exercise. Make a point to include foods rich in vitamin C and D, Omega-3 fatty acids and beta-carotene; foods like carrots, pumpkin, leafy greens, fish-liver oils, tuna, salmon, halibut, eggs, berries, citrus fruits, nuts and soy foods can help take care of that. Being a common degenerative disease, increase in its awareness is beneficial to help the population know more of about the disease and take adequate steps to control it.
It is essential to know as much as possible about osteoarthritis and take preventive measure as well as provide moral support to other people who have osteoarthritis.
By Liya Das