Wellbeing / 04 Aug, 2020

Can you prevent arthritis?

Dr Goh Lit Ching

What is arthritis and how is it caused?

Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints, which results in swelling and tenderness of one or more of the joints. The most common types of arthritis in Singapore are osteoarthritis, gout and rheumatoid arthritis. Occasionally an infection in the joint can also develop (known as septic arthritis), which is usually an acute condition.

Common types of arthritis and their causes include:

  • Osteoarthritis – Usually occurs in old age or in overused joints due to breakdown of cartilage.
  • Gout – Usually affects one joint (monoarthritis) during flare up episodes and is caused by accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joint. This is usually diet related.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – A type of auto-immune disease where your own immune system attacks the joints, beginning with the lining of joints.
  • Septic arthritis – Infection in the joints resulting in similar symptoms experienced with other arthritis conditions, but causing progressively more severe consequences if not treated promptly.

Signs and symptoms of arthritis

The most common signs and symptoms of arthritis involve the joints, which may include:

Pain

Stiffness

Swelling

with or without effusion

Joint redness

Decreased range of movement

Loss of muscle bulk

due to limited movement in severe cases of chronic joint pain

Diagnosis

Arthritis can be diagnosed in a medical consultation. History taking and physical examination from the doctor will usually identify important symptoms such as pain, redness and limited movement.

Further investigations are also needed to confirm the type of arthritis, which can include imaging tests, joint aspiration diagnostic tests and blood tests. Imaging tests may include x-rays, ultrasounds, MRI and CT scans. Analysing fluids aspirated from the joint, if any, can help with diagnosis, such as gout where the uric acid crystal can be analysed. Blood tests that check for specific types of auto-antibodies are also common diagnostic tests.

Can arthritis be cured?

The main goal of treatment is to reduce pain levels and prevent additional damage to the joints. Acute septic arthritis can be cured if antibiotics are administered as soon as possible. The majority of other chronic arthritis conditions are progressive in nature, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Gout conditions can potentially be reversed by diet control and/or long-term preventive medications.

The most common treatment options available are painkillers such as paracetamol, anarex, NSAIDS and topical menthol cream. Some specialists prescribe steroid treatment and/or immunosuppressants for rheumatoid arthritis patients to reduce the rate of disease progression.

Apart from oral medications, mobility assistance devices, like canes or walkers, can be useful to help take pressure off sore joints during acute flare up episodes. Physiotherapy sessions are important to improve the strength of the muscles surrounding the joints.

In severe arthritis cases, such as in advanced osteoarthritis, the option of joint replacement surgery can be offered.

Prevention

Lifestyle changes are the most important thing you can do to prevent arthritis.

Regular physical activities with good weight control can help reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis. On top of that, regular physical activity will also improve your muscle strength and reduce the burden on the joint itself.

Making healthy choices such as avoiding alcohol, keeping well hydrated and avoiding high plant protein based products can help those who suffer from gout to achieve better symptom control.

It is also important to seek help early if you notice any signs of arthritis. In cases like rheumatoid arthritis, the earlier treatment is delivered, the less damage will occur to the joints.

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