What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is the major cause of disability in New Zealand and affects half a million people at some point in their lives, with more women than men affected. It is a chronic (long-term) disease and comes in many different forms, the most common being the degenerative Osteoarthritis (OA), which usually occurs later in life. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), which is a lot less common, can occur at any age but usually develops in younger people, even in young children, when it is known as juvenile arthritis; There are many other types of arthritis such as gout, where crystals of uric acid (a product of protein digestion) are deposited in bone, and ankylosing spondylitis, where the spine is inflamed and painful between the vertebrae.
What Causes Arthritis?
OA is caused by degeneration of the joint cartilage (the protective surface of the joint). This can happen either through aging, if a joint is put under excessive strain (such as long-term obesity), or if a joint is damaged by injury, especially fractures. The cartilage, which protects joints by acting as a shock absorber, gets worn away and the bones become irregular in shape and sometimes form outgrowths on their surface, causing bones to grind over each other – painfully. This usually happens in larger joints like the hip and shoulder but is also found in the vertebrae and bones of the hands and feet.
RA is an autoimmune disease which means that your immune cells attack your own joint tissues, affecting mainly small joints like fingers, wrists, elbows and ankles. The synovial membrane, which covers the ends of the bones, becomes inflamed and this leads to destruction of bone and cartilage leaving the joint severely damaged, swollen and painful.
Who Gets Arthritis?
There is a genetic predisposition for both forms of arthritis and if you have a family history of either OA or RA you are more likely also to develop arthritis. However, there is no evidence for specific inherited genes for arthritis. Being overweight is also a risk factor.
Prevention and Treatment
There is no cure for arthritis and it cannot be prevented, but there is a lot you can do to manage the disease. There are also ways you can reduce your risk of developing arthritis as well as control its progression.
For more on Arthritis visit arthritis.org.nz
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