September is National Arthritis Month in Canada, dedicated to promoting awareness of, education about, and prevention of arthritis – a disease which affects joints in the body. Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not a disease of the elderly. In fact, of the more than 4.2 million Canadians living with one or more of the conditions that comprise arthritis, more than three in five people are under the age of 65. It is one of the leading causes of pain and physical disability in Canada and a major public health challenge.
The more than 100 types of arthritis fall into two major groups: degenerative arthritis, (also known as osteoarthritis) and inflammatory arthritis. Degenerative arthritis, the more common form of the disease, is caused by a breakdown of cartilage in joints causing bones to rub together resulting in pain, stiffness and eventual loss of use. Though degenerative arthritis might have started earlier, most people begin to notice the symptoms as they get into their 40s or 50s.
Inflammatory arthritis is a general term used to describe autoimmune forms of the disease. When a person has inflammatory arthritis, the body’s own immune system attacks healthy joints and tissues, causing inflammation, joint damage and, eventually, destruction of cartilage and bone. Once established, inflammatory arthritis is a chronic condition which will likely last during a person’s lifetime. The most common type of inflammatory arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. Other forms include ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus and gout.
Treatment options for arthritis often include non-medication therapies such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, education, exercise, and relaxation techniques. Medications to treat arthritis can be divided into two general categories – those which control only symptoms and those which control symptoms and the disease. To get the best results, a person suffering from arthritis needs to form close ties with the family doctor and other health care professionals and take an active part following through on treatment recommendations.
The causes of most forms of arthritis are unknown, so much of the current scientific research is focusing on how the healthy body works and what goes wrong in arthritis. Since the 1980s, development of new techniques in molecular biology has rapidly advanced understanding of how the body’s defense system works and what happens when it fails. The research is focusing on how four factors (the body, heredity, infections, and the environment) work alone and together to produce disease.
Researchers are also looking at what people with arthritis can do to help themselves. Results of studies showed that some aerobic exercises – good for the heart – were also safe for the joints. People who did these exercises regularly reported less pain and fatigue. As a consequence, researchers are studying ways to increase people’s feelings of control over the disease. They propose that it is not how much people learn but how much they feel in control that helps them cope with arthritis.
If you want to take a proactive step to do this, consider the “Chronic Disease Self-Management Program” – a FREE, six session workshop starting September 15 at the Community Recreation and Cultural Centre. To register, call 604-940-1273 or 1-866-902-3767 (toll free) or access www.selfmanagementbc.ca. Another comprehensive source of information and support is The Arthritis Society at 1-800-321-1433. The Agassiz Community Health Centre is encouraging you to not only follow your doctor’s recommendations but also to take advantage of the many resources available to make your day-to-day life with arthritis a little easier and help protect the joints affected by this disease.
Submitted by Agassiz Community Health Centre