Arthritis is a complex disease masquerading as a simple one, and it’s one that plays a giant role in the world. More than 50 million American adults live with arthritis – which works out to 1 in 5 – as do nearly 300,000 children (x). It is also the leading cause of disability in the country (x). But despite it’s prevalence and potential severity, most people sweep it under the rug. In an attempt to fix that, I’m answering all the questions you could possibly ask about arthritis so that you have all the arthritis info you need to be educated of this widespread disease. I have provided links to the sources for the statistics and definitions I quote, and if you would like to learn more, those are the places to go.
What is arthritis? At its most simple definition, arthritis is “a disease that causes the joints of the body to become swollen or painful” (x). Arthritis is an umbrella term describing over 100 different diseases, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the “wear and tear” arthritis that causes cartilage to break down over time (1, 2). Rheumatoid, like most of the other kinds of arthritis, is an autoimmune disease “in which the body’s immune system – which normally protects its health by attacking foreign substances like bacteria and viruses – mistakenly attacks the joints” (x). This causes pain and can lead to cartilage damage and joint deformity, which can’t be reversed (x).
What kind of doctor treats arthritis? A rheumatologist!
Are you in pain all the time? I personally am, but that’s partially because I have it in so many joints. My hips don’t hurt all the time, for example, but when they don’t hurt, I already have pain in other places.
What is arthritis pain like? In my personal experience, it’s an ache. That’s not a good descriptor of it because it’s much stronger than that sounds, but my daily pain is kind of a high ache. In the big problem joints, it can be burning or stinging. But even on the better days when it’s a dull ache, a dull ache in 50+ joints is still a lot. That’s why I changed medications earlier in the year – my daily pain was generally a 4/10, but a 4 in 50+ joints is not comfortable at all.
What causes arthritis? This depends on the type, but unfortunately, there’s still a lot we don’t know about arthritis. Some things that can affect someone getting arthritis are family history, age, gender, previous joint injury, and obesity (x). There’s also talk of infection or joint/body trauma triggering autoimmune arthritis (x).
Arthritis is just something that happens when you get old, right? Nope! What you’re thinking about is osteoarthritis, but even that can occur at any age. In fact, there are nearly 300,000 kids with doctor-diagnosed arthritis, which is nearly 1 in 250 kids (x).
Does changing your diet and adding supplements help or make a difference? It can, but in the experience of many, that is not enough; it is a combination of diet, exercise, and medication that changes things. In my personal experience, I had to cut out a lot of food because I am sensitive to them. However, not eating them doesn’t make a huge difference in my daily pain; eating them causes my immune system to attack my body more than usual, but not eating them doesn’t keep it from attacking my body anyway, if that makes sense. This is obviously a very subjective thing, and if I had been diagnosed sooner and/or cut out these foods sooner, before my arthritis advanced so much, maybe it would be different. But before you go out and talk to your friend/family member/random stranger about changing their diet to help their arthritis, understand that is essentially saying to them, “I know that you have a doctor who has a medical degree and who has trained specifically in rheumatology, but I, an untrained professional, have a better understanding of your disease than they do.” (You can read more about what not to say to someone with a chronic illness like arthritis here.)
What are the symptoms of arthritis? Pain and swelling are the two big ones. But like I said, there are over 100 different diseases under the umbrella of arthritis, so there are a lot of different possible symptoms someone could have.
Is there a blood test for arthritis? Yes and no. For most types of arthritis, there is no blood test that definitively proves arthritis. By this I mean that there are blood tests that can show inflammation levels or elevated levels of things that prove arthritis in some people, but there are plenty of people who test negative to those tests who have arthritis. There are some tests that (as far as I’m aware) definitively prove lupus, a disease that falls under the arthritis umbrella (x). If I am wrong about that, let me know!
It’s just related to your joints, right? Nope! Autoimmune arthritis can spread to the organs and complications from arthritis can lead to death. You can read much more about how arthritis can be a big deal in this post.
What do you do for treatments? Biologics, DMARDs, and NSAIDs. Biologics are “genetically-engineered proteins derived from human genes. They are designed to inhibit specific components of the immune system that play pivotal roles in fueling inflammation” (x). Some common biologics that treat arthritis that you may have heard of are Enbrel, Humira, and Orencia. DMARDs, or disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, “work to decrease pain and inflammation, to reduce or prevent joint damage, and to preserve the structure and function of the joints” (x). If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me rant about MTX, or methotrexate, which is a DMARD. (It’s also a type of chemotherapy). NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These are common medications like ibuprofen and naproxen. However, they are awful for long-term use, as they can cause stomach ulcers, among other issues.
When will you be better? Oh how I hate this question. Better is still an improved term to healed or cured, as that’s subjective to my previous state. The problem is that early diagnosis and treatment is necessary to get ahead of the disease (x). But what you have to understand is that arthritis is a chronic disease – it lasts forever (see next question for more info on that). The best someone can get is improved symptoms.
Can arthritis be cured or reversed? No. The best you can get is remission, which could mean anything from no symptoms at all or low symptoms to they rarely experience a flare of symptoms. As of right now, there is no cure for arthritis.
What helps arthritis symptoms? This depends on the individual, but some things other than medications that might help are anti-inflammatory foods, ice, rest, and moderate exercise.
How do you know that you have arthritis? Pain, swelling, and redness are the most obvious symptoms of arthritis, but since there are over 100 types, there are so many other symptoms and combinations in which they can appear. If you have pain that lasts, see a doctor! At the very least, they can rule arthritis out.