Many newly diagnosed arthritis patients find themselves filled with questions and misconceptions about the painful condition. In honor of Arthritis Awareness Month, and to help set the record straight, Dr. Oliver Kurucz, chief of rheumatology at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, discussed the most common questions he hears from newly-diagnosed patients:
Q: What is arthritis?
A: The word “arthritis” means joint inflammation. In fact, there are more than 100 kinds of arthritis and related diseases, osteoarthritis being the most common. Symptoms include achy joints after physical work or exercise as well as joint swelling and bony enlargement of the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, causing swelling and pain in and around the joints. It most often affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles.
Q: Is arthritis more likely to develop as a person ages? Are women more likely to develop it?
A: It depends on the type of arthritis. About 80 percent of people over age 50 have some form of osteoarthritis, and it is equally common in men and women. Rheumatoid arthritis is most common in people between the ages of 30 and 50 and occurs more often in women.
Q: Can arthritis be treated through diet?
A: Eating a so-called “anti-inflammatory” diet, also known as a Mediterranean diet, can help reduce inflammation associated with both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. This diet includes fish, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans. Other anti-inflammatory foods include avocado and dark chocolate.
Q: Will exercise make my arthritis worse?
A: No -- exercise can improve arthritis symptoms. Strengthening exercises help support muscles around affected joints, easing the burden on those joints and reducing pain.
Q: Should I take glucosamine/chondroitin for my arthritis?
A: Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular supplements used to treat the pain and loss of function associated with osteoarthritis. My recommendation to patients who ask about these supplements is to try them for three months and see if it helps. If you don’t notice a benefit in that time, it’s probably not worth your money.
Q: Are there any medications that can cure arthritis?
A: There are currently no treatments that can cure osteoarthritis. Treatment generally starts with diet, exercise, physical therapy and weight loss, and then moves to pain relievers if non-drug treatments are not effective.
Rheumatoid arthritis treatment includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and naproxen sodium to relieve pain and inflammation, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs or biologic agents to slow or stop the progression of the disease and damage to the joints.
Q: Does my arthritis need to be treated by a rheumatologist, or can I be treated by my internist?
A: Many people with osteoarthritis can be successfully treated by their internist. If you have an inflammatory type of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis, I would recommend treatment by a rheumatologist.