If you have joints that ache and swell, you might have arthritis, no matter your age.
Arthritis is a disease of the joints that is more common in women than men, although the reason for this difference is not fully understood. Symptoms—including pain, fever, aching, swelling and stiffness—may come and go in flashes or be persistent, and untreated arthritis may make it difficult to pick up a child, take a walk or write a letter without discomfort.
Osteoarthritis, the most widespread type, is caused by wear and tear on the joints. While this is more likely to happen with age, osteoarthritis can be caused at any age by an injury or repeat strain from sports and other athletic activities. The second most common type is rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, an autoimmune disease. In people with RA, the immune system attacks the synovial membrane, the thin lining of joints, as if it were a dangerous foreign body.
The average arthritis patient is diagnosed between ages 30 and 60, but RA can start at any age. In fact, approximately 300,000 children in the United States are currently living with an RA diagnosis.
There Is Hope
There is no simple test to check for arthritis. If you experience joint discomfort, discuss the symptoms with your doctor. He or she may order an X-ray or blood test to help pinpoint the problem and start you on medication, physical therapy or a behavior modification plan to stop joint damage and help you feel better.
Being overweight and smoking cigarettes are thought to put you at higher risk of developing arthritis. Kicking the habit, getting active and maintaining a healthful weight may reduce the odds.
Still joints are stiff joints, and movement can help you feel better even though getting active may be the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain. Exercising regularly keeps bones strong, builds up muscles to support joints and helps improve your mood and overall health.
A fitness plan is an important piece of the wellness puzzle for arthritis patients. But being active doesn’t mean overdoing it. Under the guidance of your doctor, ease into a variety of activities such as range-of-motion, strength-building and aerobic exercises. Consider swimming, which is particularly gentle on the joints. Working with a physical therapist is a great place to start.
This article was reviewed by Susan Benson, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., OB/GYN with St.Vincent Medical Group.