Arthritis is a chronic disease that causes a lot of pain, rigidity, swelling, and loss of function of the joints. Usually the starting age of this disease is between 20 and 45 years old. This disease has affected millions of people, decreasing their quality and effectiveness in performing various daily activities.
Arthritis has three common types according to Udan (Medical-Surgical Nursing, p. 390).
The first one is rheumatoid arthritis which affects more women than men. It is a chronic systemic disease characterized by inflammatory changes in the joints and related structures. Although its cause is unknown, it may be autoimmune or genetics.
The second one is osteoarthritis which is a non-systemic disorder of joints characterized by degeneration of articular cartilage that equally affects both women and men.
The third one is gout which is a disorder of purine metabolism causing precipitation of urate crystals in the joints resulting to pain and inflammation.
Diagnosis can be pretty tricky because it can start gradually with only very subtle symptoms. Blood tests and radiography can show normal results at the beginning of the process. The subtle symptoms at the beginning, if detected, can be problems in the joints. The symptoms can affect other organs like eyes, lungs or skin; it can be different depending on each individual.
The doctor's skills are essential in making a precise diagnosis and giving the most effective treatment. The diagnosis criteria proposed by the American School of Rheumatology include some of the next points:
• Arthritis presence during 6 weeks
• Prolonged morning joint rigidity
• Characteristic presence of nodules over the skin
• joint erosions visible by radiology
• analytic positivity of anti-bodies known as a rheumatism factor
There is no cure for arthritis. However there are treatments that allow the patient to be relieved from the symptoms experienced. The treatment of this disease has been increasingly developed over the last 25 years, being able to offer the patients a significant improvement of their symptoms and maintaining their functional level to almost normal. The objective of the treatments are to improve patient's life, relieve pain and increase mobility and strength of affected joints.
- Aspirin, which is the mainstay drug, gives both analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Also corticosteroids may be used for the same effects.
- Exercise, heat and cold application, well-balanced diet, joint protection and physical therapy are also included.
The success of the treatment depends basically on the early detection of the disease and an aggressive therapy for it before a deterioration of function or an irreversible damage eventually occurs.
The optimal treatment of the disease depends on a multidisciplinary board, including proper education of the patient and the participation of other health care agents, such as rheumatologists, primary doctors, nurses, rehabilitation, psychiatrists and orthopedic surgeon. The spectacular results of the total joint replacement (especially for hip and knee), helped patients with advanced disease to regain mobility and functional capacity.
The life expectancy of people with arthritis nowadays has indeed improved. As treatments keep getting better, complications and mortality keep decreasing and more people with this disease start enjoying their lives once again.