Arthritis 411: Get Clued Up On The Disease Of The Joints

There are many types of arthritis. The two most common, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), involve inflammation and stiffness of the joints.

What causes RA?

Dr Lipalo Mokete, an orthopaedic surgeon based in Sandton, explains that RA is an autoimmune disease affecting the joints and other parts of the body, including tendons, the lungs, the heart, the spleen and the circulatory system.

“Within joints, the disease affects synovial tissue – cells that produce joint-lubricating fluid. The process results in swelling of the joint and ultimately [destroys] joint cartilage. RA can affect any synovial-lined joint within the body, including elbows, knees, hips, feet, ankles and the spine, as well as the joints that control movements of the jaw.”

According to Mokete, in this form of arthritis, the body identifies the synovium native cells as foreign invaders. It then activates immune cells, which destroy the native cells. He adds that smoking cigarettes has been thought to trigger RA in some patients, but recent studies also suggest a genetic component. Moreover, RA goes through active and inactive phases.

What are the symptoms?

• Joint pain and stiffness, which worsen when you wake and subside through the day;

• Ruptured tendons;

• Loss of joint function;

• Visible joint deformity in advanced cases; and

• Extra-articular (outside of the joint) inflammation accompanied by anaemia and shortness of breath.

How does rheumatoid arthritis age you?

RA is a multisystem disease that affects both quality of life and – if left untreated – life expectancy, notes Mokete. The severe pain and disability limits one’s independence, potentially contributing to depression in previously active individuals. Moreover, extra-articular and upper-cervical-spine RA can lead to premature death, usually while sleeping.

What treatments are available?

Mokete recommends early diagnosis and treatment, as it has helped many young patients conquer the disease.

Medical treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids and disease-modifying anti-rheumatoid drugs. Methotrexate is most commonly prescribed. There is also new, highly effective medication classified as “biologicals”. Unfortunately, these drugs are expensive.

Surgical treatments include arthrodesis (permanent surgical fusion) and total joint replacement, which is often conducted for large joints such as hips and knees.

Click here to find out how buchu can be used to treat arthritis.

Is there a link between osteoarthritis and RA?

Mokete describes osteoarthritis as “wear-and-tear arthritis”. A disturbance such as an injury or infection in the joints causes damage to the cartilage or underlying bone. There is no link to RA, which is an autoimmune disease, except that some patients with RA may experience secondary osteoarthritis.

Any form of arthritis should be dealt with immediately. It will age you both mentally and physically. Its contribution to depression lowers your quality of life – reason enough to maintain a healthy body throughout your life.

Click here to find out which foods have been proven to relieve RA.