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Chest Arthritis in the Elderly

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

When you think of arthritis in the elderly, pain in the hands, wrists, knees or hips might come to mind first. And for good reason – these are parts of the body in which seniors commonly experience arthritis.

But arthritis can actually affect many other parts of an elderly person’s body too. One of these less well-known areas affected by arthritis is the chest. In this blog, we’ll discuss what you should know about chest arthritis.

First, an important note

Before we dive into the symptoms of chest arthritis, it’s important to remember that pain in the chest can be a sign of a serious health condition, including a heart attack. A person who suddenly feels chest pain, particularly if it comes with any of the other symptoms of a heart attack, should call 999.

Arthritis in the chest

How does arthritis affect the chest?

Well, arthritis is an umbrella term for a group of many conditions that affect the body’s joints. These include rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, the two most common and well-known types of arthritis, as well as numerous other conditions including gout, psoriatic arthritis and more.

Actually, there is no type of arthritis that specifically affects the chest. Rather, several different types of arthritis can cause older people to feel pain in their chests.

But how can arthritis exist in the chest if we’ve said arthritis is a condition affecting the joints? In fact, although we might not think of ourselves as having joints in the chest, we do. A joint is defined as a place where two bones meet, so the places where our ribs are joined to our breastbone by cartilage are actually considered to be joints.

When this cartilage along the breastbone becomes painful and inflamed, either because of arthritis or another condition, this is called costochondritis.

There are also ligaments in this same location along the breastbone, and some types of arthritis in elderly individuals can hurt these ligaments in the same way. When ligaments and tendons are painful and inflamed, it’s called enthesitis.

What does arthritis in chest joints, ligaments and tendons feel like?

Whether an elderly person’s arthritis chest pain is caused by inflammation of the cartilage or the tendons and ligaments, the symptoms are generally similar. There will typically be pain that can be worse when the older person breathes deeply or moves around in a way that jostles this area of the chest.

Types of chest arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints in the same way that it attacks bacteria or viruses. Doctors don’t fully understand why this happens, but the result can be pain and inflammation, among other symptoms.

If rheumatoid arthritis causes an older person’s immune system to attack the cartilage in their chest, chest pain from costochondritis can result.

Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a less well-known type of arthritis. In this condition, pain and inflammation due to arthritis mainly occurs in the back.

Ankylosing spondylitis is one of the types of arthritis that can cause pain and inflammation in ligaments. That means that elderly people with this type of arthritis may experience pain in their chest from enthesitis.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is the last type of arthritis we’ll discuss in this blog. It can occur together with the skin condition psoriasis, which causes plaques to form in areas of the skin.

Like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. And like rheumatoid arthritis, the symptoms include swelling, pain and stiffness in the joints.

Psoriatic arthritis belongs to the same group of arthritis conditions as the one we’ve just discussed, ankylosing spondylitis. Therefore, it’s not surprising that, like ankylosing spondylitis, it can cause pain and inflammation in the tendons and ligaments. This is how psoriatic arthritis can cause pain along the breastbone too.

Treatments for arthritis in chest joints, tendons or ligaments

So, if a doctor has diagnosed an older person with arthritis pain in the place where their breastbone meets their ribs, what treatments could be prescribed?

There is no specific treatment for arthritis in chest joints or tendons. However, some treatments for arthritis conditions may help, depending on what type of arthritis the elderly person has.

Firstly, doctors may recommend pain relief for older patients with any type of arthritis we’ve mentioned. If an older person with these conditions has been prescribed pain relievers by their doctor, then the painkillers should also help with chest pain due to arthritis.

Beyond pain relief, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are often treated with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or DMARDs. These are pills that work to make the impacts of the immune system’s attacks on the joints less severe.

If an older person’s doctor feels that DMARDs aren’t working, they might prescribe biological medicines, which are injected. These work slightly differently – they aim to stop the attacks on the joints rather than reducing their effects. Biological medicines are used for psoriatic arthritis too.

It’s worth noting that DMARDs aren’t very effective on enthesitis. So, if an elderly person’s chest arthritis pain is due to inflammation of the tendons or ligaments along the breastbone, their doctor will probably try biological medicines.

Feel reassured with a personal alarm from SureSafe

Seniors who have chest pain from rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis typically experience pain and stiffness in other parts of their bodies too. This means that they’ll often want to know someone is available to help if they trip and fall or just need to call for assistance and aren’t able to dial a phone.

Personal alarms can provide great reassurance for elderly people with these conditions, letting them know that they’ll never be unable to call for help if they need it. For example, a personal alarm with 24/7 monitoring provides peace of mind because it allows an older person to call for help any time, even at night, and know that experts at SureSafe’s response centre are available right away.

For older people who worry about falls due to arthritis pain or stiffness, a personal alarm with automatic fall detection is also a great choice. This device knows that its wearer has fallen and calls for help without any need to press a button.

What else can personal alarms do to help older people with arthritis to live independently? Give us a call on 0800 112 3201 or reach out via our live chat to learn more. You can also request a call back if you prefer.

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