Osteoarthritis - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

By: samnickel2
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a joint disease which causes the cartilage to breakdown. Cartilage is a smooth shiny material that covers joints allowing them to glide easily as you move. It is a type of resilient connective tissue that covers and protects the ends of bones in joints. Although, OA can affect any joint in the body it more frequently affects the hips, knees, hands, feet and spine.

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in Canada. OA is the most common form of arthritis. It affects one out of every ten people in this country. Statistics show that men and women are affected in equal numbers. OA usually occurs after the age of 45, but it can occur earlier in life.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

As you move or put pressure on a joint, cartilage allows bones to slide over one another and acts as a shock absorber. Cartilage itself does not have any nerve cells and therefore cannot sense pain. OA results when the cartilage becomes worn out, allowing the bones underneath to rub against each other causing pain and swelling. As the condition progresses, the joint may become disfigured and small growths called osteophytes begin to grow inside the joints. Osteophytes are small, irregular, bony growths that are also called bone spurs. Bits of broken-off cartilage or bone are also found floating inside the joint. This causes even more pain, swelling and immobility of the joint.

The exact cause of these changes is unknown. Scientists believe that the following factors play a role:

increasing age: The cartilage wears down with time

family genes: Scientists believe that osteoarthritis may be passed on through families with the symptoms appearing in middle age.

being overweight: Excess weight puts stress on the weight-bearing joints such as hips and knees, and increases the risk of cartilage breakdown

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

The symptoms of osteoarthritis usually come on slowly. Joint pain, often described as a deep ache, is the most common symptom [Table 1]. Early in the disease, the pain does not usually last longer than a couple of hours. It may occur only after physical work or exercise. The pain subsides once you rest the joint. Occasionally, pain caused by osteoarthritis occurs someplace other than in the affected joint-a condition known as "referred pain." For example, people with osteoarthritis of the neck often experience referred pain in the shoulder.

Pain or stiffness

The warning symptoms include steady or intermittent pain that usually worsens with activity in a joint, stiffness after getting out of bed, joint swelling or tenderness in one or more joints and a 'crunching' feeling or sound of bone rubbing on bone.

Aches and pains

Osteoarthritis develops slowly. Early in the disease, joints may ache after physical work or exercise. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, but most often occurs at the ends of the fingers, thumbs, neck, lower back, knees and hips.

Treatment

The goals of treatment are to relieve pain, maintain or improve joint movement, increase the strength of the joints, and reduce the disabling affects of the disease. The treatment depends on which joints are involved.

MEDICATIONS

The most common medications used to treat osteoarthritis are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They are pain relievers that reduce pain and swelling. Types include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

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