Arthritis is a serious and painful physical condition that affects the joints. It occurs due to abnormal functioning of the shock-absorbing cartilage that cushions the bone around the joints. The reason this condition develops is usually normal wear and tear due to ageing, joint inflammation, and other lifestyle habits. Arthritis caused the cartilages to be impaired, which, in turn, affects the joints’ mobility. If diagnosed with arthritis, you may experience pain and the disease may make it difficult for you to perform daily tasks like walking, climbing the stairs, running, etc.
Arthritis symptoms typically vary based on the type of arthritis you have. Also, the condition does not affect everyone the same way. While one patient may experience mild symptoms, another may complain of chronic pain depending on the severity. The key is to get early medical attention to manage the symptoms as there is no permanent cure for arthritis. Doctors usually treat the condition with medications, physical therapy, and dietary and lifestyle changes.
Signs And Symptoms of Arthritis
The symptoms of arthritis are based on the type of arthritis diagnosed in a patient, which include the following:
Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is also known as sandhivata in Ayurveda. It essentially entails the ‘wear and tear’ condition that occurs due to overusing the joints. Osteoarthritis is typically caused due to the aging of the bones and is thus prevalent among older people. It may also result from repeated physical movements and obesity. Extra stress on joints is the main reason for osteoarthritis and it can damage almost any joint in the body. Primarily affected areas include the hip, spine, and knee joints. Some sandhivata symptoms include:
- Deep, aching joint pain
- Inability to complete a full range of motion in the affected area
- Grating sensation inside the joints
- Bone spurs
- Stiffness after resting the affected body part
- Trouble with gripping things, squatting or bending, based on the joints involved
- Swelling and tenderness
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease where the immune system becomes overactive and attacks healthy body tissues, including the joints. The result of such a dysfunctional response is inflammation in the spine, hands, and feet. If inflammatory arthritis worsens, it can become systemic and damage the eyes, lungs, heart, and other organs. Some other early rheumatic arthritis symptoms are:
- Morning stiffness in joints, typically lasting for 30 minutes.
- Joint pain with swelling and tenderness lasting for weeks.
- Discomfort progression in a symmetrical pattern, meaning the left hand also gets swollen if the right hand is affected.
- Pain in multiple joints, especially the small ones in the hands, wrists, and feet.
- Non-joint symptoms like fever, dryness in the eyes, shortness of breath, etc.
Infectious Arthritis: When a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection spreads from another part of the body to the joint, the condition of infectious arthritis develops. It usually affects one joint but can spread if the symptoms worsen. The immune response plays a key role in spreading the disease. During an infection, the immune system removes harmful pathogens. When these organisms enter closed areas like joints, they cause tissue destruction and inflammation. Some signs of infectious arthritis are:
- Chills and fever
- Redness around the affected joint
- Severe pain that increases with movement
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid heart rate
- Tenderness and warmth around the joint
Metabolic Arthritis: Metabolic arthritis or gout develops due to the accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joints. Uric acid is the by-product of purines present in human cells and certain food items. Our body gets rid of it but when it doesn’t, the excess uric acid gets collected in joints and causes sudden pain. The primarily affected part is the big toe. Besides uric acid, disruption of the microbiome and white blood cells in the joint fluid are possible causes. Gout surfaces with the following symptoms:
- Intense joint pain in the big toe and other body parts like knees, ankles, elbows, and wrists
- Constant discomfort even after the pain goes away
- Swelling and tenderness around the damaged area
- Stiffness in the affected foot
- Red and shiny skin covering the affected joint
- Peeling, itchy and flaky skin resulting from reduced swelling
- Increased sensitivity to touch in the joints
Psoriatic Arthritis: Psoriatic arthritis commonly affects people with the skin condition known as psoriasis, which causes red and flaky skin covered in silver scales. It is also an autoimmune disease that can result from a dysfunctional immune response and may also be inherited or genetic. The disease usually impacts the tips of fingers, elbows, and knees. The symptoms of arthritis with psoriasis progress from mild to severe. Some of them include:
- Discolouration, crumbling and separation, or denting in the fingernails
- Blurry vision, redness, and inflammation in the eyes
- Sausage-like swelling of fingers and toes
- Foot and lower back pain
- Scaly patches accompanied by shooting pain around the joints
- Inflammation in the digestive tract
- Reduced range of motion
Reactive Arthritis: Formerly known as Reiter’s syndrome, reactive arthritis occurs due to a reaction of a bacterial infection in another body part, especially the intestines, genitals, and urinary tract. Reactive arthritis mainly targets knees, spine, ankles, and smaller joints like toes, heels, and fingers. The condition is uncommon and lasts for a short period. In exceptional cases, it may last longer with severe symptoms which require effective treatment. Some of them are as follows:
- Swollen and painful joints in the knees and ankles
- Puffy, sore, red eyes with a mucus discharge
- Unexplained fatigue
- Mouth ulcers
- Patches of scaly skin on the scalp, palms, and soles
- Swelling in fingers and toes
- Inflammation in tendons and ligaments where they attach to the bone
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis: Joint pain and inflammation in children and teens is known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis. The disease affects children in different ways based on the autoimmune response. It lasts for a few months to several years depending on the persistence of early symptoms of arthritis in the body. In some cases, children may require treatment till adulthood. The signs of arthritis among juveniles include:
- Development of scaly red patches, rashes, or small bumps on the skin
- Growth problems in legs and arms due to inflamed joints and bones
- Stiff, swollen, and painful joints in the knees, feet, ankles, and shoulders
- Eye inflammation
- Poor appetite
- Limited mobility in joints
- Swollen lymph nodes
Ankylosing Spondylitis: A type of arthritis that targets the spine, ankylosing spondylitis causes the vertebral bones to fuse. The fusing reduces flexibility in the spine and leads to a hunched posture. It also causes inflammation in the spinal bones and makes the back stiff. If the inflammation affects the ribs, you may develop a breathing problem. Additionally, the sacroiliac joints located between the base of the spine and pelvis, also get inflamed. Such inflammation is one of the early signs of arthritis in the spine. Some other symptoms are:
- Unexpected weight loss and loss of appetite
- Rigidity in the spinal bone that curves forward
- Loose bowel movements in abdominal pain
- Breathing difficulties
- Pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the spine and other connected joints like shoulders and knees
- Eye inflammatory condition called uveitis that causes pain, blurry vision, and sensitivity to bright light
- Skin rashes
Management of Early symptoms of arthritis
As there is no cure, arthritis treatment involves controlling the symptoms. Doctors adopt the following practices to help patients manage the early signs and symptoms of arthritis.
- Medications: Doctor usually prescribe different types of medications based on the severity of a patient’s symptoms. These medicines help subside the symptoms, and making it easier for patients to live with arthritis. Some drugs are specific to the disease, like in the case of gout. Other medicines that target the common signs and symptoms of arthritis include corticosteroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), biologics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and general painkillers.
- Wellness Plan: The inability to do everyday tasks to the best of your ability is the primary sign of arthritis. Hence, managing it goes beyond treating pain. The treatment includes improving physical function for an enhanced quality of life. Gradual changes in your lifestyle make it easier to control the symptoms of arthritis. Some practices aimed towards this goal are weight management, exercising, limiting alcohol, and tobacco intake, etc.
- Monitoring Disease Progression: Your efforts in managing the symptoms should reflect with you getting better. Hence, doctors track the changes in your condition and study the disease progression to modify your treatment plan as needed. Such methodology is particularly used while treating early rheumatoid symptoms as it can cause irreversible joint damage. The doctor then assesses your latest symptoms and conducts lab tests to track your progress.
- Physical Therapy: As joint conditions are directly related to mobility, a physical therapist is also required to manage arthritis symptoms. Physical therapists focus on improving the range of motion in the affected area. Regular physical therapy sessions improve strength, allowing you to conduct daily activities like climbing stairs and walking. They also help in relieving severe pain in joints to a certain extent.
- Natural Relief Methods: A single treatment strategy may be insufficient in providing effective relief from arthritis symptoms. It is a holistic process that covers your overall being. The main focus is taking care of your body and preventing the progression of arthritis. Some ways to achieve the same are planning a healthy diet, staying active, engaging in low-impact activities, etc. You can also try hot and cold therapies, acupuncture, and light massage based on your doctor’s recommendation to relieve joint pain, swelling, and inflammation.
- Surgery: Conservative methods usually assist with arthritis treatment. But in the case of prolonged and severe symptoms, surgical intervention becomes necessary. Surgeries help with effective joint damage treatment and repair the breakdown of cartilage. Some common surgical procedures for arthritis treatment include arthroscopy, joint resurfacing, synovectomy, osteotomy, fusion or arthrodesis, total joint replacement, joint revision, etc.
What course of action must one follow upon noticing the early symptoms of arthritis?
You should reach out to the doctor upon spotting even the mildest symptoms of arthritis as early detection helps control the condition.
Are the signs of arthritis similar in adults and children?
Different types of arthritis have distinct symptoms regardless of whom they affect. However, juvenile idiopathic arthritis is primarily associated with children. It has specific symptoms like growth problems, swollen lymph nodes, etc., that are not prevalent in other forms of arthritis affecting adults.
What are the serious complications of arthritis?
In severe cases, arthritis leads to extreme joint pain sensitive to touch, joint deformity, and disability. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, the complications extend to lung disease, heart problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, and osteoporosis.
Can I do intense fitness routines to manage arthritis symptoms?
No, physical therapy to subside the symptoms of arthritis is low-impact and focuses on mobility. Engaging in intense-fitness routines proves counterproductive as they put pressure on the joints and worsen arthritis. Hence, it is best to avoid any intense routines and exercise only per your physical therapist's advice.
Can I prevent arthritis?
You cannot completely prevent arthritis, especially if it occurs due to genetic predisposition. However, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding harmful lifestyle habits, and planning a proper diet can prevent this condition from occurring.
How long do the symptoms of arthritis generally last?
Generally, arthritis symptoms persist for weeks on even months. But with effective care and treatment, you can reduce the symptoms and illness progress gradually.