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Coping With Arthritis – Symptoms, Treatment And Diet Health Tips

What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a common condition which causes pain and inflammation in the joints. In the UK alone somewhere in the region of 10 million adults and children suffer from one form of arthritis or another, the most common forms of which are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, although there are over two hundred types.

In the UK osteoarthritis is the most common form, affecting 85% of all sufferers. Osteoarthritis, often referred to as 'wear and tear arthritis', is caused by the connective tissue between bones (cartilage) wasting away over time, and allowing bone to rub on bone. Sufferers frequently complain of pain or stiffness in their fingers and hands, feet, knees, hips and spine along with fatigue.

In comparison, rheumatoid arthritis is more severe, but affects only around 400,000 people in the UK. This type of arthritis occurs where the body's immune system attacks and destroys the affected joints, and this causes pain and swelling which reduces mobility. The inflamed joints will be swollen, stiff, painful, and may appear red and warm to touch. Rheumatoid arthritis often attacks the hands, feet, knees and shoulders and sometimes the elbows, hips, neck or other joints.

What Are the Symptoms of Arthritis?

The symptoms that you experience with arthritis depend on the type of arthritis you are suffering from. The most common symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Joint pain, tenderness and stiffness
  • Inflammation in and around the joints
  • Restricted movement of the joints
  • Loss of strength or grip
  • Warmth and redness of the skin over the affected joint
  • Weakness and muscle wasting

Who Is Susceptible to Getting Arthritis?

Women are more prone to osteoarthritis than men, and it is more common among over 50s. However, osteoarthritis can be caused as a result of previous injury or because of other joint-related conditions and sufferers can be younger. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to start largely in women aged between 30 and 50 years of age, but can also manifest itself among young adults and older people.

Can Arthritis Be Treated?

There is currently no cure for arthritis although a number of treatments will help to slow the onset down. Osteoarthritis sufferers are generally prescribed analgesics (painkillers such as paracetamol, codeine, co-codamol), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids. In very severe cases arthroplasty (joint replacement) may be recommended or arthrodesis (joint fusion).

In rheumatoid arthritis the aim is to slow down the progress of the condition and minimise joint damage, so the recommended treatments include:

  • Analgesics
  • Regular exercise
  • Physiotherapy
  • Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

Using Your Diet to Reduce the Effects of Arthritis

As with many illnesses, if you suffer with arthritis you will find that eating a healthy diet can assist you in controlling your symptoms. Maintaining your weight means that your joints will be under less stress, unless you have rheumatoid arthritis which means you need to avoid excessive weight, as this can worsen the condition.

A healthy pH balance is essential to the human body which means you need to take in the right amount of acidic and alkalizing nutrients to maintain that balance. Your daily intake should be 20% acidic and 80% alkalizing and where this balance is not maintained, the body will compensate in other ways including robbing minerals from bones, joints, muscles, and other organs around the body which can exacerbate or create symptoms of osteoporosis.Theoretically this means you need a balanced diet in order to maintain the level of nutrients the body needs.

Many current drug treatments for osteo - and rheumatoid arthritis have side-effects that may interact with the way in which nutrients are absorbed by your body. A number of steroids, for example, can reduce calcium absorption which itself worsens osteoporosis (thinning of bones).

In order to reduce levels of inflammation and pain, it is wise to cut back on saturated fat in your diet (the fats that are found in butter, cheese, processed meat products and some cakes and biscuits) and choose unsaturated fats (mono - and polyunsaturated) instead. These can be found in oily fish, walnuts, seeds, linseed and rapeseed oils. Polyunsaturated fats can reduce general inflammation in the body and protect you from heart disease.

Oily fish is a great source of omega-3 so you should eat two portions of oil-rich fish per week including sardines, mackerel, herring, tuna (fresh) and salmon. Vegetarians can find small amounts of omega-3 in seeds and nuts, particularly walnuts, pulses such as soya, and oils made from these and from flax and linseed. Diets with no foods of animal origin (vegan diets) will usually need supplements from a health shop.

It is important to ensure that there is enough calcium in your diet. Calcium-rich foods include semi-skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurt and low-fat cheese, which will help maintain bone strength. Most flour with the exception of wholemeal flour is fortified with calcium by law and calcium can also be found in some green vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, fortified soya products and fish.

Other supplements to consider include iron for those who suffer fatigue or anaemia which can be found in beans, nuts, dried fruit, wholegrain foods, fortified breakfast cereals and dark green leafy vegetables contain iron and Vitamin B6 found poultry, fish, milk and dairy products, eggs, wholegrain foods, soya beans, peanuts and some vegetables.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Some sufferers of arthritis have reported that an anti-inflammatory diet is a way to ease their symptoms. This diet reduces inflammation and yet is able to provide energy through its vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, dietary fibre, and protective phytonutrients. Foods are selected and prepared based on scientific knowledge of how to maintain optimum body health. The diet includes a great deal of fresh food, particularly fruit and vegetables and prohibits fast food and processed foods. Remember that body fat causes inflammation so obesity can cause an increase of inflammatory chemicals so it is important if you have osteoarthritis to try to maintain a healthy weight.

Exercise and Arthritis

While it is difficult to be physically active if you suffer with painful joints, stiffness and limited mobility, a lack of exercise will only exacerbate the problems. Over time you may see muscle loss and weight gain which will worsen your condition. Exercise will help you maintain a healthy body weight and protect joints while also reducing the risk of heart disease. Strong muscles keep you mobile, so keep moving!

By James Heilman, MD (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons