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Home >> Arthritis  
 

 Arthritis


  1. An estimated 31 million Americans have been diagnosed with arthritis. And those are just the people who are smart enough to see their doctors about the blasted pain in their joints, tendons and muscles. Six million more suffer quietly, paying the price for a past football injury, years of carrying around an extra 20 pounds or just bad luck. That is because despite its reputation for being a part of growing old as grey hair, arthritis is an equal opportunity deployer of pain. Many people are not surprised to hear that arthritis is a single leading cause of disability in people over age 45. But they are surprised to learn that it is the single leading cause of disability among all ages.
  A BURDEN TO BODY AND MIND

At best, arthritis can slow down your movements and cause pain; at worst, it can cause agony and even debilitate to the point where sufferers need hospitalization or around-the-clock care. Because of the pain, arthritis can also make you lose sleep and hamper your sex life. It can even lead to weakness in your cardiovascular system, because people with arthritis often become sedentary when exercise is too painful.


But arthritis ages more than just the body. Depression is almost universal among arthritis patients. But a lot of people with arthritis also get what is known as 'learned helplessness'. That occurs when someone starts out healthy and able to do things for himself, but over the years, as the pain gets worse, he is less able to take care of himself. Someone else must assume these functions, so the person with arthritis winds up more and becomes more helpless. In fact, some of the younger patients in nursing homes are people suffering from severe arthritis, who are there because of the inability to care for themselves.
Society almost expects people to have arthritis when they are old, so when an elderly man limps or uses a cane, it might not surprise anyone. But when you are young and your body image is very different, the effects can be devastating. The fact is, a lot of people who have arthritis — athletes, movie stars and others in the public eye — will not admit it because it seems to have a negative image. Having arthritis makes you seem old before your time.

  SYMPTOMS OF ARTHRITIS

Most people know arthritis causes painful, stiff and sometimes swollen joints. But arthritis can also affect muscles and tendons, which may not swell but still hurt. And while technically there are more than 100 different forms of arthritis, the most common ones are 'osteoarthritis' and 'rheumatoid arthritis'.
Osteoarthritis, the most common type, affects 16 million Americans. This is often caused or aggravated by athletic injury. That is not to say that if you play sports, you will get arthritis. But those who have experienced repeated injury to a joint, no matter how minor, have an increased chance of getting osteoarthritis. About 4 million American men and 12 million women have osteoarthritis, which results when cartilage in the joint deteriorates. Besides injury, this form of arthritis is caused by overweight or extra stress on the joints. It is typically localized to a certain area, such as fingers, knees, feet, hips or back. Osteoarthritis usually strikes men in their forties and fifties. The common symptoms are pain and stiffness in the joint. There are no systemic symptoms, such as fever or lung or skin complications.
Rheumatoid arthritis is the most serious and most difficult to control, and it can do some of the worst damage to joints.

About 6.5 million people in United States suffer from this malady, and that includes twice as many women as men according to the Arthritis Foundation. It hits people between the ages of twenty and fifty. Although the effects may be felt in many joints, the most commonly stricken are the small joints of the hands. Inflammation and thickening of the tissue that lines the joints cause the person to experience pain and swelling. If the process continues uncontrolled, destruction of bones may result, with deformities and eventually severe disability. It is also a general disease, which may affect the lungs, blood vessels, skin, or even salivary glands.

  METHODS TO DELAY ARTHRITIS

You may not be able to prevent arthritis, but you can delay its aging effects. So even if you have never been bothered with arthritic pain, you are just beginning to feel some morning stiffness or evening pain or you have full-fledged arthritis, here is how to deal with it:

  1. Lose weight: Being overweight is a major risk factor, especially for arthritis of the knees and hips. Even when you are in your twenties and thirties, you should try to reduce your weight close to the normal range for your height. If you are 20% overweight or more, you are a prime candidate for osteoarthritis. But any weight loss helps. If you lose just 10 pounds and keep it off for 10 years, no matter what your current weight is you can cut your risk of osteoarthritis in your knees by 50%.
  2. Watch what you eat: Various studies show that food plays a crucial role in the severity of arthritis. Norwegian researchers discovered that patients with rheumatoid arthritis showed dramatic improvements in their conditions within one month of beginning vegetarian diets. Other scientists have also found that omega-3 fatty acids, abundant in cold water fish such as salmon, herring and sardines, also ease rheumatoid arthritis pain.
  3. A diet low in saturated fat and animal fat seems to be helpful. Eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and non-red meat sources of fat such as fish and chicken may cause the body to produce fewer pro-inflammatory substances. This is not to say that this diet will cure arthritis, but it can modify the effects of arthritis.
  4. Some people react to certain foods, almost like an allergy. It may result from wheat or citrus fruits, lentils or even alcohol. The problem is, there is no way to test this. But if you notice a significant reaction and more pain consistently within 48 hours after eating a certain food, eliminate it from your diet.
  5. Get physical: Regular exercise to build your muscles and flexibility can keep osteoarthritis at bay or lessen its effects. Exercise is also recommended for rheumatoid arthritis, although workouts should be under a doctor's supervision and emphasize range-of-motion exercises. Exercise improves strength and flexibility, so less stress is placed on the joints, and they can move easier and more efficiently. Inactivity, on the other hand, actually encourages pain, stiffness and other symptoms.
  6. Weightlifting is particularly useful because it builds muscle tone, which is especially important for arthritis sufferers. Emphasize building the abdominal muscles to reduce back pain and the thigh muscles for knee pain. Meanwhile, aerobic exercises such as running, cycling and swimming are also helpful for improving flexibility.
  7. Slow down when you have to: When a joint is swollen and inflamed, continuing to use it does not help. Do not exercise through the pain, otherwise it will hurt more and you will have more pain. So even if you are on a regular exercise programme, skip a day or two when your joints or muscles begin to hurt.
  8. Get in gear: A frequent cause of osteoarthritis is injury, so you should take full advantage of the various protective equipment for athletics. By wearing protective gear, you will lessen the likelihood of injuring the joints, tendons and muscles, which reduces the risk of osteoarthritis. Anything that cushions these areas, such as elbow or knee pads used for football, hockey and basketball, will help.
  9. Turn up the heat: For immediate relief, many people find that placing warm, moist heat directly on inflamed areas helps reduce pain. Hot water bottles, heating blankets and hot baths help. But use heat judiciously — no more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time. And be sure to take a break for at least one hour before reapplying. Over-the-counter analgesic balms can also help ease pain when joints are tender and swollen. But do not use them with heat, for the two together may cause nasty reactions such as burning and blistering.
  10. Chill out to prevent pain: Ice, meanwhile, is sometimes recommended to prevent pain when joints are overworked or overused. Wrap some ice in a towel and gently apply it to your joints several times a day, 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. Also practice the other way to cool off by finding ways to deal with stress in your life, that is, relax. When you are tensed up, it hurts more.
  11. Develop a hobby: Listen to music, cultivate a hobby which not only helps in the constructive use of time but also diverts the mind from pain.
 
 
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