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Senior Life: Arthritis

Pharmacy

Senior Life: Arthritis

Senior Living Magazine

May: Arthritis

May is recognized as National Arthritis Awareness Month. Arthritis is a common disease characterized by inflammation of the joints that can affect people of all ages. According to the CDC, an estimated 58.5 million adults in the United States live with some form of arthritis. There are over 100 different types of arthritis that can result from different causes and each has unique treatment options. The three most common types of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis.

Risk Factors for Developing Arthritis:
  • Overweight or obese
  • Joint infections
  • Occupation that requires continuous bending and squatting
  • Joint injuries
  • Smoking
  • Increasing age
  • Female gender
  • Genetics and inherited traits
Signs/Symptoms:

The most common symptoms of arthritis include joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. Symptoms of arthritis may be worse in the morning after getting out of bed or after moving around following long periods of sitting. Each type of arthritis is associated with unique symptoms which may include inflammation, limited range of motion, muscle or joint weakness, or fatigue.

Diagnosis

The first step in diagnosing arthritis is seeing your primary care physician to discuss the symptoms you are experiencing. Your doctor will most likely perform a physical exam checking for any warm or red joints, fluid around the joints, or a limited range of motion. The doctor may also order a series of labs or imaging scans such as a X-Ray, MRI, or CT scan. Irregular lab values may also be used to confirm certain types of arthritis. After evaluation, your doctor may need to refer you to a specialist.

Treatment

Treatment of arthritis depends on the type of arthritis that is diagnosed by the provider. Each type of arthritis has recommended treatment options that will work best for the specific type.

For best results, arthritis treatment generally involves a combination of therapies including medications or supplements, physical therapy, occupational therapy, regular exercise, nutrient-rich diet, weight loss, heat and cold compresses, or mobility devices such as canes or walkers. In certain situations, surgery may need to be performed to help increase the patient’s ability to perform daily living functions.

Medications that are commonly used include pain medications, steroids, or topical creams. Both over the counter and prescription medications can be used to help treat pain and reduce inflammation. Over the counter ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) can help alleviate the pain and inflammation whereas acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help to control the pain. Stronger prescription strength pain medications may also be prescribed to help control the pain. There are many over the counter topical products including creams containing menthol or capsaicin that can help locally target pain. Before starting a medication, talk with your prescriber or pharmacist so they can help make a recommendation based on your diagnosis and symptoms. It also is important to make sure these medications don’t interact with any other medications you might be taking.

When arthritis is left untreated, symptoms may worsen and affect day to day life. Some complications of untreated arthritis include reduced mobility, weight gain, inflammation throughout the body, increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease, risk of falls, decreased ability to work, and potential effects of mental health.

Lifestyle Changes

Aside from medication therapy, important lifestyle changes can also be made to help improve symptoms of arthritis. First is weight loss, losing excess weight and maintaining a healthy weight can help to decrease symptoms and prevent the risk of developing arthritis. Second is diet modifications, eating a well balanced diet rich in antioxidants can help reduce the risk of inflammation. Foods that are nutrient dense include fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts. Foods that should be avoided or limited in arthritis include fried foods, processed foods, dairy products high in saturated fats, and diets with a high intake of meat. Regular exercise can help keep your joints flexible and improve muscle strength, which can take some pressure off of the joints. Swimming can be a good exercise for those with arthritis as it doesn’t put the same pressure on the joints that comes with walking or running. There are many simple at home exercises that can also be done.

Overall, arthritis is a common condition in the United States that can develop at any age with a variety of different types. Early identification and treatment through lifestyle modifications and combination therapies is essential to help maintain normal functions of daily life and prevent further complications.

Ask your local Lewis pharmacist for assistance in finding an over-the-counter product that is right for you or to discuss any questions you may have about your medications.

Written by Sarah Jungers, Pharm.D. Resident

References:

“Arthritis Awareness Month.” Arthritis , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Oct. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/communications/features/arthritis-awareness.html.

Macon, Brindles Lee. “Arthritis: What It Is, Symptoms, Causes, and More.” Arthritis, Healthline Media, 25 Oct. 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/arthritis.

Rubin, Andrew. “May Is National Arthritis Awareness Month.” Health Beat, 6 May 2021, https://www.flushinghospital.org/newsletter/may-is-national-arthritis-awareness-month.

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