Arthritis is one of the most common conditions to impact senior adults today. While many people think of arthritis as a natural part of aging, it is actually a very serious condition that can be prevented and treated. Arthritis isn't just having stiff joints in the hands and fingers, there are a number of different types of arthritis, each with their own unique side effects and each with their own individual possible cure.
With more than half of all seniors today dealing with some type of arthritis, it is important that every senior and their caregiver understands this issue, how to diagnose the problem and that they understand what treatment options are available.
What is Arthritis?
Generally speaking, arthritis is a disease that can attack the joints virtually anywhere in the body. Over time, arthritis can cause changes in the body and the way that the joints move and function so that it causes pain, swelling and even warmth in the joints. Over time, this disease can cause serious damage.
The common symptoms of arthritis include:
- Joint stiffness
- Ongoing joint pain
- Swelling in the joint
- Tenderness when touching joins
- Pain when touching joints
- Throbbing in the joints
- Restricted movement in the joints
- An inability to move joints as they should
- Warmth or redness in the joint
- Similar pain and discomfort across multiple joints
Seniors who experience these symptoms for more than two weeks should see their doctor right away. Typically, doctors will do an extensive medical exam, perform tests and do x-rays so that they can find a treatment plan that works. Different types of arthritis may require a different course of action.
Specific Types of Arthritis
Several types of arthritis exist; however, the three most common forms include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. While most types of arthritis come with similar signs and symptoms, there are actually three very different, yet equally common types of arthritis out there. Each has a different type of disease progression and each requires different types of treatments. In general, one of the best things to do in order to combat arthritis, no matter what type of arthritis it is, is to rest, eat healthy and exercise regularly. However, there are some specific medications and treatments that may work better for the different types of arthritis that seniors tend to suffer from.
This is the most common type of arthritis among seniors. Osteoarthritis, or OA, occurs when the cartilage that pads the joint bones starts to wear away with use. This causes the bones to rub against each other when moving a joint. This type of arthritis can occur virtually anywhere in the body, but it is most common in the neck, hands, low back and in the knees and hips.
Symptoms include stiffness and mild pain in the joints. Typically, pain is most common in activities such as bending, walking or stooping. Some individuals with OA will experience joint stiffness when they haven't moved in a while, or upon waking in the morning.
OA is simply a type of arthritis that develops over time and in individuals that have put a great deal of pressure on their joints. Overuse and extra weight bearing on the joints are all risk factors that can make OA more likely.
The goal of OA management is to minimize pain, optimize joint function, and lessen joint damage. Common treatments for this type of arthritis include medication to control the pain along with rest and exercise that make it easier to move the joints. Those with OA who are overweight should consider losing weight to put less pressure on the joints; a loss of 10% body weight is suggested. Some seniors with serious cases with OA will receive injections at the joint site to control pain or even have surgery to repair or replace damaged joints.
Rheumatoid Arthritis, or RA, is actually an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack the joint lining in the same way it would if it was trying to protect you from an injury. This leads to serious inflammation in the joints which can cause pain, swelling and stiffness. Some seniors experience complete lack of motion with their joints and the RA can attack virtually any joint in the body.
Symptoms of RA include fatigue, extreme and sudden joint pain, fever, pain, swelling and inflammation that lasts for hours, redness and swelling at joint site and more. RA can also cause organ issues if left untreated.
Usually, with the right treatment, the pain and swelling from RA will improve and many seniors can also start experiencing increased range of motion. Typically, anti-rheumatic drugs can slow damage from the disease while medicines such as prednisone or corticosteroids will ease the swelling. Some seniors will also take biologic response modifiers to block damage from the immune system.
Gout is often described as one of the most painful types of arthritis. Gout issues are often described as coming in "attacks" where pain develops suddenly and lasts for a few hours. A gout flare is intensely painful and disabling, usually involving a single joint, but can involve two or more joints. Typically, people experience gout attacks after they eat certain foods such as shellfish or seafood, meat, organ meats like liver, sugary drinks, and fatty meals. However, there are other risk factors that make seniors more likely to experience this type of arthritis. Excessive alcohol use, certain medications and being overweight can make gout attacks more likely.
Symptoms include sudden pain or swelling that causes the skin to pull tightly around the joint making it discolored and very tender. Typically, gout attacks happen in the big toe, the ankle, elbow, knee, hand or wrist.
After having a gout attack, seniors should talk to their doctor for insight on how to prevent future attacks from happening. When an acute gout attack happens, typically corticosteroids are used to reduce swelling. Many times, people with gout will feel relief within a few hours of treatment. Most gout attacks will go away completely within a few days, but seniors with frequent issues may be prescribed medication that will prevent future attacks.
An arthritis diagnosis does not mean that seniors will need to give up their favorite hobbies or live a restricted life. The good news is, many seniors are able to manage their arthritis and treat the symptoms of their condition so that they can continue to live a healthy and pain-free life as they age.
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Cohen, S., Mikuls, T.R., O’Dell, J.R. & Romain, P.L. (2018) Initial treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in adults. Retrieved from: www.Uptodate.com: Wolters Kluwer.
Becker, M.A., Neogi, T., Dalbeth, N., & Romain, P.L. (2019). Lifestyle modification and other strategies to reduce the risk of gout flares and progression of gout. Retrieved from: www.Uptodate.com: Wolters Kluwer.