Although one in four Americans are living with arthritis, no two people’s experiences are the same.1 That’s because arthritis isn’t just one condition but, rather, more than a hundred different conditions that can cause anything from joint pain to skin rash. While osteoarthritis is the most common form, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and psoriatic arthritis, as well as metabolic disease like gout, are types of arthritis. Incredibly common and incurable, arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are the leading cause of disability in the US.2
However, even with diagnosis, it is possible to live a long, full life.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with arthritis or other rheumatic condition, the Arthritis Foundation has provided some simple self-management tips to help you take control of your condition:
Take control of your health. Keeping track of symptoms, pain levels, medications and side effects over time will help you and your provider find the best, most effective therapies for you.
Manage Pain and Fatigue
While joint pain is a classic arthritis symptom, so is fatigue. In addition, living with a chronic condition like arthritis can be exhausting. That’s why it’s important to make sure that neither pain nor fatigue become overwhelming by using medical and natural interventions.
Exercise may seem like the last thing you want to consider, but it remains an important part of treating your arthritis. While exercise won’t fix an arthritic joint, it can strengthen muscles that support those painful joints, preserve and increase joint range of motion, improve sleep quality, help with mood and help maintain a healthy weight.
Balance Activity with Rest
For many who have recently been diagnosed with the condition, this is one of the hardest things to do. It’s important to rest and pace yourself, especially when your disease is active and causing you pain. Take breaks, lighten your schedule and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet
Maintaining a healthy weight will help you reduce the load on your joints. And a healthy diet, when combined with exercise, can help you do just that. In addition, there are some foods that can actually help you control inflammation, reducing swelling, stiffness and pain in your arthritic joints.
Improving sleep can help with chronic pain and fatigue. Simple measures to help you fall and stay asleep include making your bedroom dark, cool and quiet; avoiding caffeine or strenuous exercise in the evening; relaxing with a warm bath; or practicing relaxation techniques.
It All Starts with Diagnosis
The number of conditions, levels of severity and causes of inflammation can make diagnosing arthritis challenging. You may experience classic symptoms like chronic joint swelling or stiffness, or more generalized symptoms that can easily be attributed to outside factors or overuse. They may come on suddenly or over time, and their severity can range from a mild ache to an intense pain. Even with a specific diagnosis, symptoms and severity can fluctuate day-to-day or progress over time.
While different types of arthritis can affect anyone at any age, of any sex, the most common forms are more prevalent among older adults and women.
Not all joint pain is due to arthritis; however, if you suspect you may have arthritis, your primary care provider can refer you to a rheumatologist, like myself, who can provide you a definitive diagnosis. As with many life-long conditions, the earlier you know what you have, the more quickly you can start treatment and the better your outcomes. In addition, whether you’re newly diagnosed or have been living with arthritis for some time, education events and fitness classes, like the ones offered by South Shore Health, can be invaluable resources that can help you not just live with arthritis but thrive.