What Is Osteoarthritis?

One of the most common afflictions experienced by adults in the industrialized world is osteoarthritis. This disease is an immune system disorder – the body’s white blood cells attack healthy tissue, leading to chronic inflammation around the joints, which often wear down as the body ages. The symptoms include pain, swelling, redness and stiffness. Arthritis is typically associated with the fingers, but these painful symptoms can also affect the knees, restricting the ability of a patient to move and affecting their quality of life.

Fortunately, as our understanding of immune system pathology improves combined with the development of new drugs, medical science now offers several types of treatment for this debilitating condition. While damage to joints cannot be reversed, staying active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise can be combined with other therapies to significantly improve quality of life.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Anyone can develop osteoarthritis, but the following factors lead to an increased risk of developing the disease:

  • Increasing age
  • Women tend to develop osteoarthritis more than men, although the reasons are unclear
  • Being overweight places extra strain on your joints which can hasten the development of the disease
  • Some people are more at risk of osteoarthritis due to genetic factors
  • Some metabolic diseases, like hemochromatosis, can lead to the disease

What Are the Treatment Options?

If you have osteoarthritis, there are several treatment options available. Many of these involve making lifestyle changes, others involve drugs and other therapies:

  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like Aleve or Tylenol can be effective in reducing chronic osteoarthritis
  • Some traditional pain medications can cause gastrointestinal side effects. You may be prescribed a COX-2 inhibitor drug, like Celebrex, to reduce pain and inflammation. COX-2 inhibitors can be dangerous when taken with other anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen.
  • Nutritional supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, which are found naturally in joint tissue, may be taken although clinical evidence to support their efficacy is slim.

Complications Caused by Osteoarthritis

Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix for osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative condition that gets worse as you get older. Left untreated, osteoarthritis can lead to joint pain so severe it disrupts sleep and, in some cases, contributes to clinical depression. If patients find themselves getting depressed or suicidal, it’s important to seek treatment immediately.

Though osteoarthritis tends to get worse with age, there are many things patients can do to slow its progress and ensure a good quality of life. These include sticking to a regular exercise regime, eating healthy foods and keeping mentally and socially active.

What If Surgery Is Required?

If a patient’s osteoarthritis progresses to the point where the condition interferes with daily functioning, a physician may recommend surgery to replace worn-away cartilage in the knee. These procedures may include cartilage grafting, in which healthy cartilage is taken from elsewhere in the body and transplanted to the affected site, or a synovectomy, which occurs when the lining of the affected joint is removed to reduce inflammation. A medical professional should be consulted before considering surgery.

Recovery from Surgery

As with any type of surgery, a recovery period is necessary before a patient can regain his or her full control over the affected region. Depending on the type of surgery required, a doctor may recommend a physical therapy regimen post-operation to regain strength in the knee and to restore stability and balance. A patient may need to use a knee brace, crutches or a cane for some time after surgery.