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What Are the Different Types of Elderly Arthritis?

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms
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The NHS predicts over 10 million Britons suffer from arthritis – that's a staggering one in six people living with the disease.

However, despite its pervasiveness, few realise arthritis is an umbrella term encompassing many unique conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. The first step towards pain reduction is understanding the difference so medical professionals can devise effective healthcare plans.

If this sounds a little confusing, keep reading as we explain everything you need to know about arthritis types. We'll also answer some of your most pressing FAQs about diagnosis, symptoms and treatment.

6 common forms of arthritis

Arthritis isn't a single disease. Instead, it refers to any condition that causes joint swelling, stiffness and deterioration. Unfortunately, it's ubiquitous, disproportionately affecting post-menopausal women and the elderly. While there are over 100 arthritis types and related disorders, some are more common than others, including:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gout
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common manifestation of arthritis and swollen joints, mostly impacting people in their mid-40s or older - most often affecting senior citizens. It's also called degenerative joint disease or wear and tear arthritis. As the name suggests, there's no cure, but you can manage symptoms through regular exercise, physiotherapy and medication.

Like most forms, osteoarthritis is a type of inflammatory arthritis, typically affecting the hands, knees, hips, lower back and neck. The smooth cartilage that lines a joint breaks down over time, forcing the surrounding tendons and ligaments to overcompensate. In severe cases, bone rubs on bone, causing misshapen joints and osteophytes (bone spurs).

Although osteoarthritis is generally seen as a normal – if inconvenient and sometimes painful – part of ageing, many people still struggle to complete everyday tasks. As such, it's worth investing in a personal alarm with 24/7 monitoring for extra peace of mind. No matter where you are, someone will be on hand to help if there’s an emergency.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common arthritis type. People usually notice early symptoms between 30 and 50 years old, the most common being joint swelling and stiffness. You might also experience weight loss, general tiredness and chest pain if the heart or lungs are affected.

What is the main difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis? The former is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by general wear and tear, whereas the latter is actually an autoimmune disease. In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system targets the synovium (the joint's soft-tissue membrane), eventually causing bone erosion and deformity. Pain often starts in the hands and feet but can impact any part of the body.

Doctors aren't sure exactly what causes rheumatoid arthritis but believe it's a combination of hormones and genetics. Women tend to suffer more than men, thanks to changing oestrogen levels. Plus, researchers are now exploring the possibility of a familial connection. There's also some evidence to suggest that smoking increases the risk of the disease.

Fibromyalgia

Contrary to popular belief, fibromyalgia isn't simply a chronic pain condition – it's a misunderstood form of arthritis. Unlike most other arthritis types, it doesn't just affect one or two areas of the body. Instead, it triggers widespread pain across every muscle, joint, ligament and tendon. Understandably, the disease is life-limiting and incredibly distressing.

The cause of fibromyalgia is still up for debate. However, many healthcare professionals believe it's something to do with how the central nervous system processes and interprets pain signals. Although sex and age are risk factors (middle-aged women make up most cases), one of the biggest precursors is actually PTSD. Consequently, doctors may prescribe talking therapies, stress-reduction exercises and antidepressants to combat the worst symptoms.

You can never tell when fibromyalgia will flare up. If the pain is particularly bad, it's almost impossible to stay steady on your feet. Luckily, a safety alarm with fall detection can help. You don't need to press a button because the sensors will immediately detect signs of distress and redirect you to a knowledgeable SureSafe operator, family member or friend.

Gout

Gout is a nasty condition that provokes sudden, severe joint pain, often in the toes and feet. While it's not always persistent like osteoarthritis or chronic like fibromyalgia, it's equally traumatic. During an episode, patients feel intolerable, burning pain lasting between four and 12 hours.

The good news? It's relatively straightforward to treat with a few simple lifestyle tweaks. Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood, which the kidneys can't flush out. This creates razor-sharp crystals in and around the joints that inflame the surrounding areas. How can you help the kidneys do their job? Lose weight, drink plenty of water and avoid fatty foods and alcohol.

Psoriatic arthritis

Another of the main inflammatory arthritis types is psoriatic arthritis. It affects people with psoriasis – a chronic skin condition that causes red, scaly patches that often crack and bleed. Like psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis gets progressively worse over time without active management. Stiffness and swelling are the main symptoms.

The NHS estimates one in three people with psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis, so it's worth discussing the possibility with your doctor. It usually develops five to ten years after the skin condition. Getting diagnosed as early as possible is crucial because this particular form of arthritis can be disabling if left untreated. Many patients start a strict regime of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids and biological therapies to slow progression.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis

Although arthritis is a common ailment of the elderly, children and teenagers aren't immune. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is an umbrella term for arthritis in young people. Sometimes, symptoms last for a few months. Other times, they morph into lifelong conditions that require treatment well into adulthood.

The dictionary definition of "idiopathic" is a "disease or condition which arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown." Unfortunately, more research needs to be done to pinpoint the exact origins of childhood arthritis. There are six types to be aware of (some of which also impact adults), including:

  • Oligoarthritis – specific to children under 16 years.
  • Polyarthritis – a form of arthritis that damages five or more joints.
  • Systemic – an autoimmune disease where the immune system fights the body's tissues.
  • Psoriatic arthritis – related to psoriasis.
  • Enthesitis-related – the immune response that usually attacks germs accidentally targets the joints.
  • Undifferentiated – a group of inflammatory conditions that don't fall into a specific rheumatic or connective tissue disorder.

Arthritis FAQs

How do I know what type of arthritis I have?

If you or a loved one has arthritis, arrange an appointment with your GP. While there is no cure, you can halt progression and manage symptoms with exercise, diet and medication. In some cases, your doctor might recommend surgery to replace or fuse vulnerable joints.

Experts will typically diagnose arthritis based on your medical history, a physical examination, X-rays, MRIs and blood tests. Each form presents slightly different symptoms, so making an accurate assessment is pretty straightforward. For example, rheumatoid arthritis impacts both sides of the body and is usually worse in the mornings. In contrast, osteoarthritis starts in an isolated joint and radiates outwards.

What parts of the body does arthritis affect?

Arthritis affects every part of the body, from the toes and ankles to the spine and neck. Most forms start in the smaller joints before moving to larger areas. However, disorders that impact the immune system, like fibromyalgia, often cause widespread, non-specific pain in the muscles, bones and soft tissues.

What type of arthritis is the most painful?

Many people wonder which type of arthritis is worse, but it depends on the individual case. For instance, someone with early-stage osteoarthritis will probably be in less pain than someone with advanced gout, although gout is more easily treated.

Instead of talking about pain, which is subjective, it's more useful to talk about progression rates. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the more aggressive forms of arthritis. Symptoms develop over a shorter period, so they may feel more intense.

Is arthritis considered a disability?

Arthritis can be considered a disability if it prevents you from functioning in everyday life. Physically, you might not be able to stand, walk or grip. Emotionally, you could struggle with anxiety or depression as you navigate the changes to your body. You'll need proof of diagnosis from your GP to qualify for financial support.

What is the best treatment for arthritis?

Again, the best treatment depends on the person's unique circumstances. Some only require physical therapy and regular exercise, whereas others may need joint replacement surgery. Either way, catching the disease as early as possible is the key to effective management.

Live more confidently with a SureSafe Alarm

Now you understand the difference between common arthritis types, you should feel more confident managing your condition. However, if you need extra support, why not invest in your very own personal safety pendant?

SureSafe alarms boast clever features like fall detection, GPS tracking and 24/7 monitoring for unbeatable peace of mind. Whether you're home alone or out and about, you'll benefit from expert support whenever you need it.

Got any questions? Contact our professional, friendly team today on 0800 112 3201, request a call back or use our live chat.

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