While most of us do not want to admit it, there comes a time in all our lives when we enter what is tongue-in-cheekly sometimes referred to as ‘the snap-crackle-pop generation.’ The indisputable fact is that aging bodies do in fact, age, and arthritis is often a part of that aging process. But aging is not always a common trait with people who suffer from arthritis.

As the foremost cause of disability in America, arthritis is more common in women and while it is often is a part of aging, arthritis afflicts over 50 million adults of all ages, races, and genders in the US. It is even found in more than 300,000 children.

What exactly is arthritis?

Arthritis is a term used to refer to joint disease or joint pain, and there are over 100 types of arthritis. All of these symptoms are common to one or more of the various types of arthritis:

  • Joint pain or swelling is a common symptom.
  • There is often stiffness in one or more joints.
  • A person’s range of motion tends to be decreased.
  • There are often permanent changes in joints.
  • In some forms of arthritis, there are changes in the eyes, heart, kidneys, lungs, and skin.

The most common version of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which results from the cartilage on the ends of bones eroding, leaving bone to rub against bone. This results in stiffness, swelling and pain.

There is no single cause of arthritis, but there are some external factors that might be factors in precipitating it:

  • Prior injury to a joint
  • An infection that sets off joint problems
  • Smoking
  • A very physically demanding occupation
  • Genetics (types of arthritis tend to run in families)
  • Age-related arthritis (it is more common in people 65 and older).

How arthritis is diagnosed

Your doctor will first perform a physical exam to determine whether there is swelling, warmth or redness in your joints. If your doctor suspects arthritis, laboratory tests may be ordered to determine what type of arthritis you have. These tests may include blood tests, urine tests, and joint fluid tests.

The following imaging tests may also be ordered to aid in the diagnosis:

  • X-rays can show loss of cartilage.
  • CT scans provide a better visual identification of the soft tissues surrounding your bones.
  • MRI scans offer views of the bones and their connection to cartilage, ligaments and tendons.
  • Ultrasounds give a good view of the bursae (fluid-filled cushions between bones and soft tissue).

Information to have ready at your doctor’s appointment

Being a partner in your own healing is important. You can greatly assist your doctor in diagnosing your arthritis by getting the following ready to take into your appointment:

  • A thorough and detailed description of your symptoms

This includes what time of day they occur, what activity incites your pain, and what you do to make it better.

  • An overview of your medical history, including the major medical problems your parents had, and what problems your sibling might have

Remember, genetics often plays a part in arthritis, and injuries to your joints can often be precipitating factors in the development of arthritis.

  • A thorough list of all medications and supplements you take

Drug can be inciting factors in arthritis symptoms. Some supplements, like iron, can cause joint pain when taken in excess.

  • Questions you want to ask your doctor.

Your orthopedic doctor is the best partner you can have in dealing with arthritis. Once your arthritis is identified, you can decide what treatment works best for you.

(See our article on available treatments next month.)