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What is arthritis?
Arthritis is an umbrella term for many conditions that affect the bones, muscles and joints. While many older adults experience the condition, it can affect people of all ages. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in seven Australians have some form of arthritis and 50% of those that have arthritis experience moderate to severe pain.
Symptoms of arthritis
Generally, arthritis results in the following joint symptoms:
Arthritis can really limit a person’s quality of life as there is often acute and chronic pain. The person may also struggle with moving around.
The combination of these physical symptoms can also impact the person’s mental health and can lead to anxiety or depression. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in five Australians with arthritis experience high levels of psychological distress.
Types of arthritis
The three most common types of arthritis in Australia include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition where the cartilage covering the ends of bones your joints starts to deteriorate. The bones start to rub together, causing pain, swelling and loss of motion. It tends to affect the hands, spine, and joints such as the hips, knees, and ankles. Osteoarthritis tends to get worse over time and eventually it becomes very hard to perform your usual tasks. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, it’s the most common form of arthritis and around 2.2. million Australians have this condition.
You may have an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis if you have some joint misalignment or if you’re overweight. If you’ve injured your joints or done a lot of repetitive joint loading tasks like kneeling or heavy weight-lifting, you may also have an increased risk. Women are also more likely to develop the condition.
Find out more about osteoarthritis at Arthritis Australia.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition. This means the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. Symptoms include joint inflammation, pain, swelling and loss of function. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, around 458,000 Australians have this condition and it can affect people of any age however it’s most common in people over 75 years.
Find out more about rheumatoid arthritis at Arthritis Australia.
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that develops when there’s too much uric acid in the blood. When there’s too much uric acid, uric acid crystals get deposited in one or more joints and this leads to inflammation. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, around 187,000 Australians had gout in 2017-2018 and 87% of these were men. Gout commonly affects the big toe joint, but can also affect other joints like the fingers, wrists and elbows. Some people experience sudden flare-ups which result in severe pain, redness and stiffness.
The cause of gout is too much uric acid in the blood which is known as hyperuricaemia. Risk factors for hyperuricaemia include obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and poor kidney function. You can also reduce your risk by limiting the amount of meat, seafood and alcohol you consume.
Find out more about gout at Arthritis Australia.
Reducing your risk
Maintaining a healthy body weight
Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight can help to reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis. If you’re overweight or obese, it can put increased pressure on your weight bearing joints, cartilage and ligaments.
Exercising regularly can help to strengthen your muscles and bones and it also helps to increase joint flexibility. It also reduces your risk of gaining weight.
As well as causing a whole range of health problems, cigarette smoking also increases your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. For help with quitting cigarettes, read our article on how to quit smoking for good.
Treatment of arthritis
While there’s no cure for arthritis, there are ways you can manage the symptoms and increase your quality of life. Arthritis can get worse if it’s not treated, so it’s important to see your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms. Your doctor can help you develop a plan for managing the arthritis.
For advice on managing at home, healthy eating, dealing with pain, and managing emotions when you have arthritis, see living with arthritis at Arthritis Australia.
Your doctor may prescribe different medications depending on the type of arthritis that you have. Your doctor may prescribe simple pain relievers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) or corticosteroids. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may be prescribed anti-rheumatic drugs. You can find out more about medications for arthritis at Arthritis Australia.
Call Arthritis Australia on 1800 011 041 for more information about arthritis and how to manage it. Arthritis Australia is the peak arthritis consumer body in Australia.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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