What is Osteoarthritis And How The Disease Affects
by：MEI JIA Display2020-05-18
Known as degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis. It is defined by the loss of cartilage, a material found in the joints. Cartilage functions as a natural buffer between the bones, preventing them from making contact with one another whenever a person moves. With osteoarthritis, this material erodes to the point that the bones rub together. Moving the joint causes the patient to experience pain, the severity of which depends on the extent of the erosion.
Osteoarthritis can affect cartilage throughout the body, but is most commonly found in hips, knees, lower spine, feet, and hands. The disease is incurable and progressive; the loss of cartilage increases with time.
We'll provide an overview of the disease below, beginning with its symptoms. We'll explain how it is diagnosed, and describe some of the treatments that can be given to reduce the patient's discomfort.
Symptoms Caused By Osteoarthritis
Symptoms may not be noticeable until the condition reaches a moderate or advanced stage. Even though the buffer between the bones begins to erode, there may be little to no pain in the beginning. Over time, however, the loss of cartilage becomes significant, which can cause several symptoms. The most common among them is joint pain. The patient may experience soreness in the joint during, and after, moving it.
The joint will also become increasingly stiff as time passes. Stiffness will be most pronounced immediately after waking, and lasts until the joint regains flexibility.
Many patients experience bone spurs (osteophytes), which are small lumps that develop along the margins of the joint. The lumps are hard, and indicate increasing damage to the surface of the bones.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
There are a number of contributing factors to the disease, including age. Older people are more susceptible to it than their younger counterparts. To understand the reason, it is important to be familiar with the change that cartilage undergoes as a person grows older.
In a young person, the makeup of cartilage includes a substantial amount of protein. With time, however, the amount of water in the material increases. This causes the cartilage to become more vulnerable to erosion as the bones of the joint rub against it. By the time the patient has reached an advanced age, the buffer may have completely deteriorated.
Other factors that play a role in the development of osteoarthritis include obesity, trauma to the joint, and genetic predisposition. But age, by far, is the main factor.
Detecting The Erosion Of Cartilage
After a physical examination, a doctor will order x-rays to examine the structure of the joint. The x-rays will display cartilage erosion as well as the formation of osteophytes. The physician will be able to determine the extent of the arthritis.
In some cases, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is ordered to provide clearer details of the joint. The images will display the ligaments, soft tissues, bone, and layer of cartilage. This test is less common due to cost, but is ordered when x-rays prove inadequate.
One or more blood tests are usually performed to help rule out other conditions that may be triggering joint pain. An analysis of the synovial fluid in the joint is also done. This may reveal inflammation as well as causes of swelling.
Treatments To Help Minimize The Patient's Pain
As mentioned earlier, osteoarthritis is incurable. But there are treatment options available that can reduce the pain the patient experiences as the disease progresses. A number of medications may be given. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroid injections. Physical therapy is also recommended in order to strengthen the joint.
In severe cases of the disease, surgery may be recommended. A surgeon may attempt to realign the bones to reduce pressure (called osteotomy). Or, the joint may be replaced (total arthroplasty); this is primarily done when there is substantial cartilage erosion in the hips or knees.
It's estimated that seven out of ten people over the age of 70 show signs on x-rays or MRIs of osteoarthritis. Although there is no cure for the disease, it can be treated.