Considering that almost 54.4 million Americans live with one form of arthritis or another, it is not surprising that so many people have questions about arthritis diagnosis and treatment.  If you or someone you care about is learning how to live with arthritis, you may want answers to some of these important questions:

  1. What is arthritis? Arthritis is an entire class of diseases that affect joints.  There are more than a hundred kinds of arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout or fibromyalgia. These conditions often have their own mechanisms, symptoms and treatment plans.
  2. Is there a cure for arthritis? There are no cures for many kinds of arthritis including the most prevalent forms.  Some kinds of arthritis that are caused by bacteria may, in fact, be cured with antibiotics, and some forms like gout may go into remission if properly managed.  Most kinds of arthritis require daily management which may include medications, physical therapy and lifestyle changes.
  3. What are the symptoms of arthritis?  Although the symptoms for a specific type of arthritis may vary, in general, arthritis presents with joint pain, swelling, stiffness, redness, warmth or tenderness. These symptoms arise because there is damage to the bones, cartilage or other tissue found in the joints.
  4. What causes arthritis? In most cases, medical experts are unsure of the exact cause of many forms of arthritis. There is likely a combination of factors including environmental, genetic and pathogenic influences.
  5. How serious is arthritis? Arthritis is a very serious health condition that requires immediate treatment to prevent irreversible joint damage. If your arthritis goes untreated, you could experience pain, fatigue, or disability. Not only should you visit your doctor regularly to determine how your arthritis is progressing, but it is in your best interest to religiously follow your doctor’s orders.
  6. Is arthritis fatal?  Some forms of arthritis may prove fatal if there is no treatment like diffuse scleroderma, but most do not end in death.  However, almost all forms of arthritis produce enough chronic pain and loss of joint function that you will experience a serious reduction in quality of life if you fail to treat it properly.
  7. How is arthritis diagnosed? The first step in arthritis diagnosis and treatment is visiting a doctor.  Your doctor will ask about your medical history and conduct a thorough evaluation. In addition to taking blood and urine samples, your doctor may also take x-ray or MRI scans of your joints. It may take several more visits and tests to determine the exact type of arthritis you have.
  8. Should you see an arthritis specialist for treatment? In most cases, your personal physician has the expertise to design and administer a treatment plan once you have been diagnosed with arthritis. It may be a good idea to consult a rheumatologist if your physician is having difficulty identifying the specific strain of arthritis or if you are not responding as anticipated to your treatment plan.
  9. How is arthritis treated? In most circumstances, your doctor will recommend a multi-layered approach to treatment that may include medications, physical therapy and lifestyle changes.  The specifics of each will likely depend on the exact nature of your arthritis and your personal prognosis.
  10. What medications help with arthritis? In general, most arthritis patients require some kind of pain reliever with anti-inflammatory properties as well, which is why most doctors recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Motrin or Advil.  If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor may prescribe disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) that impede your immune system from attacking your joints. If inflammation is a serious issue, then your doctor may recommend oral or injected corticosteroids.
  11. What kind of dietary changes should I make?  You should make the bulk of your meals out of foods that fight pain and especially inflammation.  Choose fish as your primary protein since it is rich in omega-3, and olive oil has been shown to limit cartilage damage. A diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains will limit pain and improve joint function.
  12. How does physical therapy help treat arthritis? Physical therapy uses various therapies to improve joint function but it primarily emphasizes exercise. By improving strength and flexibility around joints, you can retain more range of motion and limit arthritis symptoms like pain and stiffness.
  13. When is surgery an option? In extreme cases, it may be necessary to employ surgery to restore joint function.  There are many kinds of joint surgery which may be used including
    1. Joint repair—joint surfaces are smoothed to diminish pain and enhance mobility.
    1. Joint replacement—joints like hips or knees that are too badly damaged may be replaced with artificial joints.
    1. Joint fusion—smaller joints in hands and feet may be fused to reduce pain and improve strength.
  14. What lifestyle changes should I make?  There are many ways that you can slow the progression of your arthritis including dietary changes, regular exercise and stress reduction. One of the most important strategies you can employ is to reduce caloric intake and burn more calories so that you lose weight. This will ease the stress on your joints and help slow the progress of the disease.
  15. What is the best way to manage arthritis pain?  With arthritis comes chronic pain, but there are ways to mitigate it and diminish its impact on your life. You may manage pain with OTC pain relievers like aspirin or Motrin, but it may be more helpful to use long-term coping strategies like meditation, biofeedback, yoga or cognitive behavioral therapy.
  16. How important is sleep if I have arthritis? Sleep is essential for anyone who is struggling with chronic pain symptoms. Almost 80 percent of people with arthritis have difficulty sleeping, but sleep is profoundly important for healing and emotional health. Studies also show that lack of sleep may make you more sensitive to pain symptoms. If you are having sleep issues, be sure to discuss possible solutions with your doctor.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.