Arthritis: an introduction

Wednesday 1st October

What is this condition and how common is it? Find out with our mini guide to arthritis

Every year in the UK, more than 10 million adults see their family doctor about arthritis or a related condition. Patients are more likely to be female (six million women, compared to four million men) and these GP visits increase with age. In the over-75s a third of all consultations are about musculoskeletal problems.

According to the charity Arthritis Research UK, eight and a half million people have evidence of osteoarthritis in the spine. Six million have painful osteoarthritis in one or both knees. Meanwhile, and again this increases with age to affect almost half of the over-80s, rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately 400,000 adults in this country, with an estimated 20,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

“Arthritis Research UK is dedicated to stopping the devastating impact that arthritis has on people’s lives,” says chief executive Dr Liam O’Toole. “Everything that we do is focused on taking the pain away and keeping people active. Our remit covers all conditions which affect the joints, bones and muscles, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain and osteoporosis.”

Arthritis and rheumatism

There are some 200 musculoskeletal conditions. Arthritis is used to describe inflammation within a joint, while rheumatism is a more general term for aches and pains in or around the joints.

Osteoarthritis was previously called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear”. The surfaces within a joint (such as the knee, ankle or hip) become damaged and this affects its normal movement. The cartilage covering the surface of the bones becomes thinner, the underlying bones thicken and the joint swells.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, whereby the immune system starts attacking the body’s own tissues. It is a chronic condition, and the main symptoms experienced by sufferers are joint pain and swelling.

Support and hope for sufferers

There is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis. There are different drug regimes, including painkillers and anti-inflammatories that allow sufferers to control their symptoms, as well as lifestyle changes and complementary therapies that may help.

Dr Liam O’Toole at Arthritis Research UK, says: “We fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis, provide information on how to maintain healthy joints and bones and to live well with arthritis. We also champion the cause, influence policy change and work in partnership with others to achieve our aims.”

Further information

Visit Arthritis Research UK to read more about the condition and the different ways of managing it. You may also be interested in our article Living with arthritis: practical solutions, where you'll find recommendations for handy gadgets for the home.

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