Understanding types of arthritis, treatment options

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Vandit Sardana

"Arthritis" is an umbrella term that includes more than 100 related conditions. Two of the most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

While both are considered "arthritis," these two conditions have different causes, symptoms and treatments.

Osteoarthritis develops in joints that have been injured or overused. It affects more than 30 million people in the U.S. and often strikes the knees, hips or hands. Osteoarthritis is "wear and tear" arthritis and joint pain is the most common symptom.

It requires strengthening of muscles with physical therapy to offload pressure on the joint; injections, such as cortisone, hyaluronic acid or stem cells; and anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil or Aleve.

Rheumatoid arthritis develops when the immune system attacks joints and organs, which causes painful swelling. It's less common than osteoarthritis, and impacts about 1.5 million adults in the U.S.

Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects multiple joints and needs medical attention with disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS) to keep it in remission.

There are various blood tests combined with a thorough history and physical exam that can help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis.

Many people with chronic arthritis pain find that a positive attitude can significantly boost their ability to cope with pain. Hypnosis, meditation and breathing techniques can also help ease discomfort.

But if you have joint pain that lasts six weeks or longer, morning stiffness that lasts at least 30 minutes, or pain in the same joints on both sides of your body, it's probably time to talk with your doctor.

At this point, both conditions require treatment, which can include the following:

Medication: Your physician can recommend prescription and over-the-counter medications to help control inflammation and pain.

Weight management and physical activity: Excess weight puts more pressure on the weight-bearing joints and increases pain. Fatty tissue also increases hormones related to inflammation.

In addition to helping control weight, activities like walking, water aerobics and yoga can help reduce joint pain and improve flexibility, balance and strength.

If you are new to exercise, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to find out what may be best for you.

Surgery: Once the joints are eroded, whether from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, the best treatment is joint replacement surgery. The type of arthritis will guide the appropriate prosthetic used in your joint replacement so that you attain stability and a well-balanced joint.

Many of the current joint replacement surgeries are minimally invasive with quick recovery times. For instance, patients undergoing the muscle-sparing anterior approach to hip replacement have no restrictions on them from the day of surgery.

Some patients are returning to golf and pickleball in as soon as four weeks.

In terms of knees, with the modern anatomic knee design, patients attain full range of motion along with stability, enabling them to return to their active lifestyle within six weeks from surgery.

Vandit Sardana, M.D., FRCS, is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon with Beaufort Memorial Orthopaedic Specialists in Bluffton and Beaufort.

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