How to Prevent and Treat Arthritis

Family Circle Magazine—April 1, 2010

While there are over 100 different arthritis-related conditions, half of the 46 million sufferers in the U.S. have osteoarthritis. In fact, it's estimated that almost 50 percent of us will be dealing with some form of it by the time we turn 65. The first signs are typically puffy or swollen knees and legs that hurt when straightened or bent. The pain is caused by bone rubbing on bone after cartilage (which acts as a cushion) has broken down. Early symptoms are often attributed to general muscle soreness. "People need to zero in on the pain they're feeling," says Lisa Mandl, MD, a rheumatologist at Hospital for Special Surgery, an orthopedic hospital in New York City. "With arthritis, you'll have pain in certain pivot pointsólike your knees and hipsóand less in the surrounding muscle tissue." Plus, muscle aches go away in a few days and feel better with rest and massage; arthritis pain doesn't.

Initially, over-the-counter remedies may help. Anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil and Motrin are best for alleviating swelling, inflammation, and pain, while analgesics like Tylenol provide pain relief. But if you rely on these every day or have to take the maximum allowed dosage in order to function, or if you have symptoms for more than six weeks, make an appointment with a primary care physician or a specialist like a rheumatologist, advises Dr. Mandl. The doctor should inquire about a family history of the disease (many forms of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, have genetic links) before making a diagnosis. "Certain blood tests, like the one for rheumatoid factor, can help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis," says Dr. Mandl. Currently there isn't a test for osteoarthritis, but X-rays can help with a diagnosis.

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