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FAQs on Arthritis

Dr S Ramakrishnan

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8. What arthritis diseases are common in the elderly?

Osteoarthritis is the most commonly encountered disorder in the elderly.

9. What is osteoarthritis? How is it treated?

Osteoarthritis is a disease where there is wear and tear of a joint. To reduce the friction and facilitate better movement in a joint, there is a structure called cartilage which covers the opposing ends of the bones which meet to form a joint. Due to repeated trauma and the process of ageing, this cartilage becomes thinner, and there is friction between the bones within the joint. This results in the patient experiencing pain in the joints when he moves them. The knees and hips are commonly affected in osteoarthritis. Patients with osteoarthritis have difficulty in walking, using the staircase and standing up from the squatting posture. When left untreated, patients with osteoarthritis of the knee become handicapped and dependant due to restricted mobility.

It is treated by administering pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs to give symptomatic relief. These drugs should be used with utmost caution in the elderly since they are associated with side effects like gastric ulcers and even damage the kidney. Patients with osteoarthritis should avoid self medication. Other useful suggestions are weight reduction. Usage of walking aids and measures to aid the protection of the joint (viz., usage of knee cap, using a dining table for meals in preference over sitting on the floor, and sleeping on a cot) have beneficial effects. Patient education regarding chronic nature of disease and the need for prolonged treatment, and an exercise program go a long way in helping the overall treatment plan.

10. Is there any special diet for patients with arthritis?

There is no special diet for patients with arthritis. They have to take a well balanced nutritious diet and maintain a normal body weight. The only arthritic condition in which dietary restriction is imposed is a condition called gout in which patients need to avoid high quality protein foods like non-vegetarian and soya beans.

11. What is the role of physiotherapy in arthritis?

Physiotherapy does form a sheet anchor in the management of patients with arthritis. These patients are prescribed a regular exercise program which helps to maintain joint motion and prevent deformities. Other modalities of treatment in physiotherapy include application of heat or cold, traction, and assisted exercises.

12. Is arthritis curable?

A minority of conditions are curable, and the majority are controllable, depending upon the type of arthritis. Patients have to understand the chronic nature of the disease so that they are compliant with treatment. Patients also need to modify their lifestyle.

13. Is the pain in arthritis due to involvement of the nervous system?

It is a myth that arthritis is a neurological disorder which will result in paralysis. Arthritic diseases are rheumatological disorders that originate in the joints. In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system recognizes its own joints as an enemy, and starts something akin to a civil war. In this war, missiles are fired into the joint which gets inflammed and destroyed. 
 
Dr. S Ramakrishnan is Senior Consultant Rheumatologist with Apollo Hospitals, Chennai.
 
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