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How arthritis affects the body

Lisa King

How arthritis affects the body

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There are several chronic conditions that affect the general population of Barbados. Though they may not be as common as the widely recognized chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, the conditions lupus, sickle-cell anaemia and arthritis continue to affect many Barbadians.
The elderly population, however, has a high prevalence of arthritis, which is one of the major causes of disability in Barbados.
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints, and the word “arthritis” is formed from the words arth (joint) and itis (inflammation).
This condition causes pain and loss of movement and compromises everyday activities such as walking, bathing and dressing.
There are over 100 types of arthritis. These include osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints. The disease occurs when the body’s immune system, which normally protects it from infection, begins to attack the thin membrane that lines the joints.
As a result of joint damage, pain, inflammation, loss of function and disability may occur.
The joints of the body that are most commonly affected by rheumatoid arthritis are the hands, feet, wrists, knees, elbows, and ankles.
However, the disease has been known to affect some organs such as the heart, blood vessels and lungs.
The symptoms of arthritis include stiffness, swelling, pain and redness and warmth in the joint. Even though rheumatoid arthritis is known as a chronic condition, in some cases the symptoms will come and go, with periods of mild activity or some of intense activity and symptoms.
Osteoarthritis tends to occur commonly in individuals over 65 years of age, but it can be seen in individuals of all ages. With the condition, the cartilage covering the ends of bones where they meet to form a joint and allow movement wear away, leaving the bones exposed.
The bones become exposed and rub against each other.   
The symptoms vary, depending on which joints are affected and how severely they are affected. These symptoms include stiffness, which may cause difficulty in moving a particular joint, if at all. The stiffness usually starts in one joint and then spreads to other joints, and is usually worse right after one awakes and when it’s very cold.
Other symptoms include pain that may not be accompanied by stiffness, a grating sensation and swelling.
The joints most commonly affected are the lower back, hips, knees and feet. Other commonly affected joints are the neck and fingers. When the fingers and hand joints are affected, it can be difficult to perform simple tasks such as grasping and holding objects.
It is recommended that if there is pain, stiffness or swelling in or around a joint for more than two weeks, you should see your doctor. Since there are more than 100 types of arthritis, it is best to have a doctor do the diagnosis and recommend the most appropriate form of treatment.