It’s Arthritis Awareness Week (Sunday, 15 March – Saturday, 21 March), so Lesh, our resident health writer, explains the ins and outs of this chronic and, at times, debilitating condition.
Arthritis is not a single condition. It is, in fact, a group of more than 100 medical conditions that affect one or more joints – where two or more bones meet.
The three most common forms – which collectively affect more than 95 per cent of Australian arthritis sufferers – are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. Both rheumatoid arthritis and gout are inflammatory disorders, whereas osteoarthritis is degenerative in nature.
Other forms of arthritis are mostly inflammatory conditions and include:
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Juvenile arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
Symptoms that are common to arthritis conditions include pain, stiffness, inflammation and damage to joint cartilage (the tissue that covers the ends of bones, enabling them to move smoothly against each another) and surrounding tissue.
Understandably, therefore, arthritis can cause painful and limited movement that invariably impacts an affected person’s quality of life – by interfering with basic daily tasks, such as walking, climbing stairs, driving, cleaning and cooking.
According to Arthritis Australia, “arthritis is the major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia, with 3.85 million Australians affected at a cost to our economy of more than $23.9 billion each year in medical care and indirect costs such as loss of earnings and lost production.”
Scarily, these figures will continue to rise as the population ages, with a prediction of seven million Australians suffering from some form of arthritis by 2050. Arthritis, however, is not necessarily a normal consequence of ageing; most Australians who have the condition are of working age.
While presently there’s no cure for arthritis, there are ways to manage the pain and symptoms and look after joint health to maintain movement and independence. Some good news is that an early uptake of certain lifestyle measures can delay the onset of osteoarthritis – one of the most common forms – and may reduce the number of people with osteoarthritis in Australia by about 500,000 within 15 years.
For osteoarthritis in particular, the following approaches have shown to be helpful:
- suitable exercises
- a healthy diet
- weight management
- joint-protective aids and devices
- self-management courses run by Arthritis Australia
- over-the-counter pain medicines, as advised by your doctor or pharmacist.
The symptoms of arthritis and its management will vary from person to person. If you’ve been diagnosed with a form of arthritis, it’s best to speak to your doctor to find safe treatment and management options for you.
For support and self-management courses, contact Arthritis Australia on 1800 011 041 or visit its website.