Arthritis – It Might Not Be What You Think
When you hear the word “arthritis,” what do you picture? For most people, the image that comes to mind is grandma having trouble with her knitting needles, or perhaps grandpa depending on a cane to walk. The majority of people associate arthritis with the elderly, because the most common type of arthritis – osteoarthritis (OA) – does generally worsen with age.
But OA isn’t the only type of arthritis. In fact, the word is used to refer to more than 100 different diseases and conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage, and other tissue. In fact, of the 50 million Americans living with arthritis, more than half are younger than 65 and 300,000 of them are children! I was personally diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at the age of 25, and I have met children who were diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA) as toddlers.
OA, RA, and JA (as well as other diseases that fall under the heading “arthritis”) do share some similar symptoms. Almost all types of arthritis involve chronic stiffness and joint pain – and most types benefit from regular, low-impact exercise or physical therapy. But there are some very important differences as well.
OA occurs when there is a breakdown of cartilage, which is a type of flexible connective tissue that provides cushioning in each of your joints. When this cartilage is destroyed, bones in the joint can rub directly against each other, causing stiffness, pain, and limited mobility in the affected joint. OA is very common, especially as people age – according to the American College of Rheumatology 70% of people over the age of 70 will show evidence of OA in their x-rays.
RA and JA, on the other hand, are forms of autoimmune arthritis. A person’s immune system is designed to protect them from disease by attacking foreign cells, such as viruses or bacteria. But, with autoimmune arthritis, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues instead. While OA generally occurs in a particular joint, autoimmune arthritis is usually systemic. This means that inflammation can occur in any joint in the body – or many of them at once. People living with autoimmune arthritis are also likely to have additional symptoms, such as weakness, fatigue, and the possibility of organ damage. Other types of autoimmune arthritis include psoriatic arthritis (PsA), ankylosing spondylitis (AS), fibromyalgia, gout, and lupus.
So when you hear the word “arthritis,” it is important to remember that it might not be what you think. See the pregnant woman chasing her toddler at the park? Or the teenager at the movie with her friends? Or the baby learning how to walk? All of them could potentially have arthritis. That’s why the American College of Rheumatology has deemed September 2016 as the first ever Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month. In the spirit of awareness, why not share this article with your friends and family? Educating others about the various types of arthritis will help promote understanding – improving the lives of adults and children who live with arthritis every day.