Spotting the Symptoms of Arthritis
How to Identify Symptoms of Arthritis
There are over 100 different forms of arthritis, with 150+ million Americans diagnosed with some type of the disease. Arthritis is now one of the leading causes of pain and disability, and as the disease progresses, a person’s capacity to do everyday tasks can be severely hampered.
The most common form, osteoarthritis, is a degenerative joint disease that happens when the flexible tissue at the ends of bones wears down. It usually progresses as we get older.
Other common forms of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disorder that inflames many joints, including those in the hands and feet, psoriatic arthritis, a form of arthritis that affects some people who have psoriasis, as well as other related autoimmune diseases such as lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome, gout and bursitis.
While pain, stiffness and swelling experienced in the hip area are the symptoms most people associate with arthritis, physical medicine and rehab specialist Dr. Mitchell K. Friedman says:
“There are symptoms people don’t associate with arthritis that nonetheless are indicative of arthritis.”
He identified those symptoms as:
- Groin pain: Often described by patients as a dull, aching pain in the groin area, outer thigh, backside and even in the knee, these symptoms are often linked to arthritis in the hip.
- Deformity: Dr. Friedman stated that since the hip “is a weight-bearing joint…when it is put under pressure to perform without the protective cartilage it needs to do it’s job well, the result over time can be damaging.” Generally the only way to tell the extent of the deformity is through an x-ray.
- Joint locks: When the cartilage in the hip breaks down, small pieces of it can become lodged in the joint, interrupting the joint’s ability to move smoothly the way a healthy joint does, thus causing the joint to “lock.”
A friend of mine was in a horrific traffic accident 17 years ago. His hip was shattered, however the doctors didn’t fix it since they were busy saving his life. As a result his hip was locked, and as the doctor who recently operated on him put it, the space between his joints was like a concrete highway and he literally hadn’t moved his hip in 17 years. He underwent heterotopic ossification surgery, a procedure that gets rid of bone in soft tissue where bone normally does not exist. Now he has complete flexibility and movement in the hip.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) usually begins slowly with minor symptoms that come and go, usually on both sides of the body. It progresses over a period of weeks or months. RA is hard to identify since symptoms vary from person to person and can change from day to day.
One of the first symptoms of arthritis to be on the lookout for is fatigue. It usually occurs when you begin feeling like you have the flu. Some of the very early signs of RA are symptoms not typically associated with the disease.
Symptoms of Arthritis to be aware of include:
- General weakness or feeling of malaise
- Dry mouth
- Dry, itchy, or inflamed eyes
- Eye discharge
- Difficulty sleeping
- Chest pain when you breathe (pleurisy)
- Bruising easily
- Hard bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms and/or
- Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
Their advice is to make an appointment with your physician to get evaluated if you’ve got these types of symptoms.
The third most common type of arthritis is psoriatic arthritis, which causes inflammation in the joints. This form of arthritis can occur when a person’s immune system is overactive. As its name implies, it primarily hits people with psoriasis, a skin disease also akin to the immune system.
Doctors often misdiagnose psoriatic arthritis as gout or RA since the symptoms are similar: painful, tender, stiff, or swollen joints; morning stiffness; tiredness and/or inflammation in other areas of the body, including the eyes.
If you’re not getting better after having been diagnosed, keep asking questions or go to a physician who specializes in arthritis.
Arthritis can be triggered by certain foods that you should avoid if you have the disease. They are:
Processed and Fried Foods
Researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine scrutinized the effect diet has on disease prevention. Their results showed that “cutting back on the consumption of fried and processed foods, such as fried meats and prepared frozen meals, can reduce inflammation and actually help restore the body’s natural defenses.”
Sugars and Refined Carbs
High amounts of sugar and food items such as processed white flour, causes an advanced glycation end product (AGE) — which is a toxin — to be increased in the body causing inflammation. As painful as it is for me to say, the cure is to cut out candies, processed foods, white flour baked goods and sodas to reduce your arthritic pain.
Due to the type of proteins that most dairy products contain, they may also contribute to your pain. In some people, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, this protein may aggravate the tissue around the joints. Instead of eating the majority of your protein from meat and dairy, try other sources such as vegetables, beans, quinoa and tofu.
Salt and Preservatives
Most foods have an overabundance of salt as well as other preservatives to maintain a long shelf life. Eating too much salt can result in inflammation in the joints. Next time you reach for a frozen, microwavable meal, check the label for sodium content. There are plenty of delicious frozen entrees available that are low in sodium content.
Omega-6 fatty acids, like those contained in most snacks and baked goods, trigger inflammation. On the other hand, Omega-3, found in fish oil has been shown to relieve painful inflammation, so go for the olive oil, nuts, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds instead.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that doing the following will help you “stay ahead” of the pain:
- Exercising during the evening will help you feel less stiff in the morning.
- If you’re sitting still for any length of time, they suggest you change positions frequently, move your neck from side to side, bend, stretch your legs and move your hands and fingers.
- Stand and take a short walk every 20 minutes to a half-hour or so.
All of the above are designed to try and keep your joints as flexible as possible, so they don’t lock up on you.
Additionally, Mayo suggests avoiding the following activities that “involve high impact and repetitive motion” such as running, jumping, tennis, and high-impact aerobics.
Instead, participate in activities that build the muscles around your joints but don’t damage the joints themselves. A physical or occupational therapist can help you develop an exercise program that’s right for you, one that will emphasize stretching, range-of-motion and slowly progressive strength training. Alternatively, you can find multiple online sources that will show you the proper exercises to do.
Lastly, I’ve found that when I’m suffering with joint pain, low-impact exercises such as walking, biking or swimming not only helps me physically feel better, but also greatly improves my mood.
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