Osteoarthritis

Specialty of Rheumatology

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative conditions that affects the joints, causing them to become stiff and causing pain. Any of the joints in the body can be affected, but it more commonly affects the hips, knees, and small joints in the hands.

It affects women more commonly than it does men, and is the commonest form of arthritis in the UK.  

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are joint pain, difficulty in mobility, and stiffness or deformity in the joints.

These symptoms vary depending on the patient and intensify in a progressive manner. Joint pain, the most common symptom, appears first with movement and ceases with rest, but as osteoarthritis progresses, the pain may also be present while resting.

What are the causes of osteoarthritis?

The causes of the onset of osteoarthritis are not currently known but there are a number of risk factors associated with it:

  • Genetics: In more than 60% of cases, genetic inheritance influences the appearance of osteoarthritis.
  • Physical activity: athletes and people who maintain high physical activity have a higher risk of suffering from osteoarthritis.
  • Working day: those who perform repetitive joint movements in their working day can wear down the joints and overload them, which can trigger osteoarthritis.
  • Menopause: osteoarthritis more commonly affects women who have reached menopause due to the decrease in oestrogen that occurs during this stage of life.
  • Injuries: fractures and traumas in the joints can influence osteoarthritis.
  • Obesity: although it does not directly cause the onset of osteoarthritis, obesity influences wear and tear of the joints and therefore the progression of the condition.

Prevention of osteoarthritis

To avoid risk factors and therefore prevent osteoarthritis, it is very important to eat a balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, and perform regular moderate exercise, thus avoiding wear and tear of the joints. Avoiding obesity is important as carrying too much weight can be detrimental.

Treatment of osteoarthritis

The objective of the treatment is to avoid or reduce pain and improve mobility. To treat osteoarthritis, the medical specialist will recommend the patient a series of exercises to be performed which are adapted to their situation and abilities, often with the help of a physiotherapist.

Pharmacological treatment: In most cases anti-inflammatories or analgesics are prescribed to reduce swelling and therefore pain. Chondroprotective medications may also be prescribed which may slow the progression of the disease.

Surgical treatment: osteoarthritis in very advanced stages may require prosthetic surgery.

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