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Osteoarthritis

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is a chronic, degenerative, joint disease that affects mostly middle-aged and older adults. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown of joint cartilage. Although it can occur in any joint, usually it affects the hands, knees, hips, or spine. The disease is also known as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease.

Illustration of an Arthritic Hip Joint
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What causes osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis can be classified as primary or secondary. Primary osteoarthritis has an unknown cause, while secondary osteoarthritis is caused by another disease, infection, injury, or deformity. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in the joint. As the cartilage wears down, the bone ends may thicken, forming bony growths or spurs that interfere with joint movement. In addition, bits of bone and cartilage may float in the joint space and fluid-filled cysts may form in the bone, limiting joint movement. Several risk factors are associated with osteoarthritis, including the following:

  • heredity
    Slight joint defects or double-jointedness (laxity) and genetic defects may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.
  • obesity
    Excessive weight can put undue stress on such joints as the knees over time.
  • injury/overuse
    Significant injury to a joint, such as the knee, can later result in osteoarthritis. Injury may also result from repeated overuse or misuse over a period of time.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is pain after overuse of a joint or prolonged inactivity of a joint. The most common joints affected by osteoarthritis include the hips, knees, fingers, feet, and spine. Symptoms of osteoarthritis usually develop slowly over many years. The following are the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis. However each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • joint pain
  • joint stiffness, especially after sleeping or inactivity
  • limited joint movement as the disease progresses
  • grinding of joints when moved (in more advanced stages of osteoarthritis) as the cartilage wears away

The symptoms of osteoarthritis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, the most common way to diagnose osteoarthritis in a joint is by x-ray.

Treatment for osteoarthritis:

Specific treatment for osteoarthritis will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the condition
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, and therapies
  • expectation for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference

The goals of treatment for osteoarthritis are to reduce joint pain and stiffness, and improve joint movement. Treatment may include:

  • exercise
    Regular, aerobic exercise, and stretching and strengthening exercises may help reduce the symptoms of and pain associated with osteoarthritis.
  • heat treatment
    Treating the affected joint with heat may help reduce pain.
  • physical and occupational therapy
    Physical and occupational therapy may help to reduce joint pain, improve joint flexibility when performing daily activities, and reduce joint strain.
  • weight maintenance
    Maintaining your recommended weight or losing weight (if overweight) may help to prevent or reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
  • medication
    Medication for specific symptoms may include pain relievers (in pill form or topical cream) and anti-inflammatory medications, if inflammation is present.
  • injections of thick liquids into the joints
    These liquids mimic normal joint fluid.
  • joint surgery
    Surgery may be necessary to repair or replace a severely damaged joint. i

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