What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common forms of arthritis diagnosed in the United States each year. Considered the “wear and tear” type of arthritis, is it most commonly diagnosed in older adults, although anyone at any age can develop OA.
Arthritis is an inflammatory disease under which numerous specific conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, lupus or gout are categorized. These conditions are considered autoimmune disorders because your immune system is in overdrive, fighting against itself.
The hallmark characteristic of osteoarthritis is that it breaks down your cartilage. Cartilage is the flexible, yet supportive material that cushions your bones from rubbing together. Osteoarthritis destroys cartilage, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Without that cushion between your bones, pain is the biggest complaint, with joint stiffness and muscle fatigue close behind.
Different kind of autoimmune disorders requires different types of treatment. Before you make any changes to alleviate your osteoarthritis symptoms, you’ll want to make sure you have the most accurate information from your doctors.
It is also wise to get a second opinion if you have the opportunity. Even if you have one kind of arthritis, it doesn’t mean you aren’t dealing with another one.
How Do You Get Osteoarthritis?
There are several factors that can play a role in developing osteoarthritis:
If it runs in your family, you have a higher risk of developing OA, although it’s not a guarantee. Knowing your family’s medical history can be helpful if you are experiencing osteoarthritis symptoms. It can also help pinpoint a diagnosis faster.
If you suffer an injury either from overuse or an accidental break, osteoarthritis can develop around the injury, breaking down that much-needed cartilage. Professional athletes are more often at risk for developing osteoarthritis later in life because of the increased risk of injury.
Carrying too much weight can add stress to your bones and joints, leading to inflammation. Inflammation is only helpful when you are trying to fight off an infection.
Reducing any excess weight will help ease arthritis symptoms. I have yet to master this particular goal, but I keep trying! If you have been experiencing constant, achy pain that impacts how well you perform your everyday tasks, it may be time for a conversation with your doctor.
You may also experience other symptoms like a low-grade fever, fatigue, and joint stiffness.
Since cartilage breaks down as we age, osteoarthritis is more likely a diagnosis the older you are. That being said, children and young adults can certainly develop any kind of arthritis. It just may take longer to get an accurate diagnosis since this type of arthritis is more unusual in younger people.
Obtaining an Osteoarthritis Diagnosis
Pain is usually the first indicator that you have any kind of problem. Arthritis pain is a consistent, often dull ache that feels worse in the morning when you first wake up.
It’s not like a sharp pain you get from an injury. You may even write it off as just the aches and pains of getting older.
Sometimes you discover you have osteoarthritis when the cartilage damage appears on an X-ray for another injury. I discovered I had osteoarthritis in my knee when I was seeking relief from a torn meniscus, and spinal arthritis when I had pain in my hip.
A diagnosis of osteoarthritis is clear-cut when X-rays are part of the diagnostic process. Your doctor may also run bloodwork to eliminate other conditions. The process of getting this diagnosis can take a long time, however, because aches and pains are hard to pinpoint.
Pain can radiate out from one area of your body but the OA damage could be happening someplace else. Try to stay as patient as you can during the process, and utilize some pain management and stress relief techniques to help you through.