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The Truth About Osteoarthritis

By: Risa Caldoza-De Leon MD, FPAPSHPIThe Truth About Osteoarthritis

Arthritis is described as any disorder affecting joints. It is the most common ailment of the prehistoric people, which is why it is tagged as the oldest disease in the universe.  Of the more than 100 types of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most prevalent, affecting millions of people worldwide.

Osteoarthritis is thought to be the result of wear and tear. But while age is a factor, osteoarthritis is not an inevitable part of aging. No one is spared, not even dinosaurs (iguanadons were found to have ankle osteoarthritis) or the early humans as far back as 4500 BC.

Data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) in the 90s found that three out of 10 women and men aged 60 years and above had osteoarthritis in the knee. In high-income countries, it was reported that up to eight out of 10 people over 65 years of age suffer from this scourge. In the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) reported that 10 million Filipinos have osteoarthritis. 

Do you know that arthritis affects more people than heart disease or hypertension combined? Experts predict that by 2050, 130 million people will suffer from osteoarthritis worldwide.

Osteoarthritis happens when the slippery rubbery tissue called cartilage wears down over time, more commonly in the joints of your hands, knees, hips, and spine. Cartilage provides a smooth, gliding surface for joint motion, and it acts as a cushion between the bones. No one knows exactly what makes cartilage breaks down, but genetics, anatomical structural problems, and injury could contribute to its deterioration.

If you are a woman in your 40s, osteoarthritis is likely to strike your bones, though it can happen sooner to people who have had a joint injury. Being overweight could also lead to OA of the knees because excess weight put higher stress on the joints. It should be noted that when you walk, your knees absorb a force equal to about three times your body weight with each stride you make. Contrary to popular belief, osteoarthritis is not influenced by weather as proven by studies, but there are several risk factors that lead to this condition which include smoking and lack of physical activity.

Osteoarthritis is a slow-developing disease. While it may start as a silent disorder, it would eventually bring about symptoms such as joint pain, tenderness, stiffness (especially when you wake up in the morning or after a period of inactivity), redness, warmth, swelling, and limited movement. There may also be a grating sensation when you use the joint. Bone spurs, or those annoying lumps of extra bits of bones, may form around the affected joint. These symptoms can be managed; however, the damage cannot be reversed.

Treatment for the symptoms includes analgesics, like paracetamol and tramadol to relieve pain; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and pain; and steroids, which can be directly injected into a joint for fast relief. Severe cases of OA might need surgery to replace or repair damaged joints. Physical therapy can improve range of motion and strengthen muscles. Therapeutic devices such as braces around the joint, or a walking cane can ease the pain from walking or standing.

Prevention is still your best shot. Stay physically active and prevent injuries to your joints. Try not to overuse a painful joint at work or during activities. Maintaining the correct body weight is important. It will not only take weight off your knees, but also prevent inflammation since the body fat is metabolically active and produces hormones and chemicals that raise levels of inflammation. Five percent weight loss will significantly improve pain and function in knee osteoarthritis. It’s also important to eat healthy because research shows that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps reduce inflammation and pain in your joints.

If you think you have osteoarthritis, do not ignore the symptoms. Consult your doctor for proper management.

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