How do I know if I have arthritis?
The most common symptoms of arthritis are pain and stiffness in joints. Arthritis is a complex disease spectrum with over 100 different types of arthritis and, according to the Arthritis Society, it affects one in five Canadians.
As one of Canada’s most prevalent chronic health conditions, arthritis affects people of all ages from children to senior citizens. Women are more likely to have arthritis, and the likelihood increases with age.
The many different forms of arthritis can be grouped into two major types:
- Inflammatory or autoimmune – this describes forms of arthritis where the body’s immune system attacks healthy joints and tissues, causing inflammation and joint damage. The most common type is rheumatoid arthritis, which may be hereditary.
- Non-autoimmune – the most common of this type of arthritis includes osteoarthritis (OA), caused by a breakdown of cartilage, the tough elastic material that covers and protects the ends of bones, leading to pain, swelling, and problems moving the joint. As it worsens over time, the cartilage wears away and bone rubs against bone, causing joint damage and increased pain. Gout is another example of a non-autoimmune form, caused by a build-up of uric acid in the body which most commonly causes sudden, severe attacks of pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness. This typically involves the base of the big toe.
HOW IS ARTHRITIS DIAGNOSED?
To prevent damage to joints, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are very important, according to the Arthritis Foundation. You should see a health care provider if you have the following symptoms:
- Pain, swelling, and stiffness in one or multiple joints.
- Morning stiffness in and around the affected joints lasting at least one hour.
- Pain and stiffness that worsens with inactivity and improves with physical activity.
- Reduced range of motion.
- Very early symptoms of osteoarthritis are intermittent pain with strenuous activity; over time, the pain is present more often.
- Joint grinding.
To diagnose arthritis, your health care provider will consider your symptoms, medical and family history, and the results of a physical examination. Lab tests and medical imaging, such as X-ray, ultrasound, bone scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may also be requested to determine whether arthritis is present and ascertain the type. You may be referred to a rheumatologist to help manage some types of arthritis.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR ARTHRITIS?
Treatments often include a variety of options, depending on the type of arthritis, that include diet and exercise recommendations, bracing, over-the-counter medication, nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), etc.
Image-guided pain therapy injections, which treat pain by injecting medication through a small needle, may also be a treatment option. For example, steroid injections, which locally introduce a corticosteroid (an anti-inflammatory medication), might be recommended to decrease inflammation and reduce pain. For OA, viscosupplement injections, which involve the injection of hyaluronic acid (HA) – a viscose substance normally present in healthy joints, but decreased in OA – might be recommended to improve mobility, reduce pain, and lubricate the joint. A platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection, which uses plasma from your own blood to stimulate your body to heal itself, may also be recommended to help repair damage during the early stages of OA.
Studies suggest treatment in early stages of the disease is the most effective way to slow disease progression. In most cases, you can manage mild to moderate arthritis symptoms for many years with a simple treatment plan. It’s also important to thoroughly discuss all your options with your health care practitioner, especially in the later stages of the disease.
For more information about Image-Guided Pain Therapy injections, please speak to your health care practitioner.