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One of the leading causes – if not the leading cause – of disability in the United States is arthritis. This means that over 16 million adults are forced to limit their activities because of their arthritic condition. But what is arthritis? And what can someone suffering from this apparently debilitating condition do to improve his or her quality of life?
The word arthritis comes from the Greek term nosos arthritis or literally “disease of the joints.” Therefore, from its etymology alone you can have some idea as to what is arthritis. But arthritis, contrary to what some may believe, is not just one disease. It is, in fact, comprised of more than a hundred different rheumatic diseases and conditions that mainly affect the joints (hence, its name) although some specific types target the tissues which surround the joint as well as other connective tissue. What is arthritis and what specific type it is can be determined by the pattern, severity, and location of symptoms? As typical in most rheumatic conditions, the patient often suffers from pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints. In addition, these symptoms can develop all of a sudden or go through a gradual progression. In some cases, the disease may even affect the immune system and various internal organs of the body. For a better gauge on determining what is arthritis, below are brief profiles of two of the common forms of the condition:
When someone asks “what is arthritis?” The first thing that pops in our minds is the specific form of arthritis called osteoarthritis, which is incidentally the most common type. This disease is characterized by the degeneration of the cartilage, its underlying bone, the joint, and its bony overgrowth. As these tissues break down, the patient begins to suffer pain and stiffness of the joints. Osteoarthritis or OA commonly occurs in the knees, hips, hands, and spine. It is believed that the condition might be caused by both mechanical and molecular events occurring in the affected joint, leading to its degeneration. Generally, osteoarthritis begins after the age of 40 and from there, the disease progression is gradual. There is no cure for osteoarthritis but there are several treatment options available to manage the symptoms associated with it.
Another common form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis or RA. As a systemic inflammatory disease, rheumatoid arthritis manifests itself in multiple joints, affecting the synovial membrane primarily and other organs secondarily. As the synovium, or the lining of the joints, inflames, the cartilage and bone start to erode, possibly leading to permanent joint deformity. The common symptoms are a pain, swelling, and redness. In addition, the disease is also associated with fatigue and prolonged stiffness after rest. Again, there is no cure for RA, but there are several new drugs that are available to treat the disease. By understanding what is arthritis and its two common forms, you will have a better chance of understanding the disease as a whole and be in a better position to make informed decisions when it comes to selecting treatment options.
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