This condition primarily affects people over age 60 and can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle from a young age.
Medical Advisor María José Jannaut Peña
Rheumatologist, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare
Almost half of the population that is over age 60 suffer from this type of arthritis, associated with worn-out joints. This condition is more well-known as osteoarthritis and its severity can vary from person to person, depending largely on lifestyle as well as some birth defects that can have long-term effects.
The constant use of high heels, wearing inappropriate footwear, sports injuries that have not been treated or overusing your joints at work are all lifestyle habits that can take their toll over time. All of these factors can determine which joints will wear down faster.
An example of a birth defect is congenital hip problems in infant girls. When these defects are not detected and left untreated, they can affect the longevity of the joints. Another issue that can have an impact in adulthood is when someone has a leg that is longer than the other.
A matter of habit
When we are young we do not prepare ourselves for old age because we think that time is so far off. Without understanding the consequences, youth smoke cigarettes, abuse alcohol, gain weight and leave exercise out.
The habits of our youth, however, determine how we age. This is where public health policies become important, however. Such policies clearly demonstrate how proper exercise and diet are essential from birth to death. The children of today are developing lifestyle habits that will define who they are in the future.
Not all types of arthritis are related to old age. Some are inflammatory and can happen at any age and to any gender. These types of arthritis can negatively affect peripheral joints such as the hands, knees and in some cases, the medial skeleton (the spine and the sacroiliac joints).
“Most people have genetic factors that predispose them to this condition but there are also environmental issues that contribute to it. The most influential habit is smoking, which is responsible for making irreversible changes to specific proteins that further accelerate the onset of rheumatoid arthritis,” our specialist explains. Also included in this list are upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and even sexually transmitted infections. These external elements appear to interact with the genes to trigger arthritis.
It is not always easy to differentiate between degenerative and inflammatory diseases or mechanically transmitted diseases, as the symptoms are often similar. It is very important for a medical expert to specifically identify what is causing the symptoms in order for proper treatment to be administered. For example, rheumatoid arthritis that is not properly treated is not only pain inducing, it also leads to heart attacks, infection and osteoporosis.
While pain relief may be a priority for patients, prior to deciding on a treatment, it is important for doctors to understand the severity of the inflammation, assess the presence of other diseases and determine tolerance to certain medications; over time, patients should also understand these factors. Beyond the joint pain that initiated the doctor’s visit, it is also important for doctors to understand how the disease has affected the body in other ways.
In Colombia, where medications that treat inflammatory arthritis are completely covered by its healthcare system, there is no excuse for those who have this disease to not have access to treatment. “It also doesn’t make sense for there still to be people who suffer from the advanced stages of arthritis because an early diagnosis wasn’t made. It is our duty as a society to look out for the bone and joint health of people of all ages, from all socioeconomic statuses and from all climates,” states Dr. Jannaut Peña.
Fortunately, doctors today can stop the structural damages caused by inflammatory joint disease with advanced medication with proven efficiency. There are also plenty of methods for alleviating pain regardless of how complex the origin is. A large part of this task lies with the patient, who should have an awareness of the habits they need to change to benefit from better results.
Patients that follow their treatment plans, have a hobby, help others or who feel important as members of their family also experience faster improvements. With regard to pain, those who exercise regularly, maintain a bodyweight that is appropriate for their body structure and avoid anxiety or depression through managing their emotions tend to experience reduced levels pain. This allows them to change their pain threshold and contribute significantly to their treatment.
In any case, whether dealing with inflammatory arthritis or osteoarthritis, decision-making should always be a shared process between the attending physician, the patient and their family. All parties should be aware of the challenges they may face throughout their journey and be aware of the variables that can most affect them: early detection, good medical support, healthy habits and a very good attitude.
1% of the world’s population is affected by rheumatoid arthritis, according to WHO figures.