Feeling it when it rains: A guide to managing arthritis
Looking perfectly healthy and able bodied—when you’re not—can be one of the toughest parts of coping with arthritis.
“If you have arthritis, you might not look like you’re sick, and that can be difficult,” says Seth Ginsberg, who co-founded Creaky Joints, to help people better handle the ups and downs of arthritis. “You’re dealing with the perceptions of other folks, and people can pass judgment pretty quickly.”
“It’s an isolating disease,” agrees Jill Zarin, a cast member of “The Real Housewives of New York City,” whose daughter, Allyson, has a type of arthritis called spondylarthropathy.
What it is
Arthritis, which is treatable but not curable, is a disease that causes inflammation of the joints, resulting in pain and swelling. The most common type is osteoarthritis, which can affect any joint, along with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
While your risk of getting osteoarthritis increases as you get older, arthritis can strike at any age. According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than half of arthritis sufferers in the United States are younger than 65.
A good diagnosis
Just as there are many different types of arthritis—more than 100—there are also many ways to cope with the disease’s challenges. It all starts with getting an accurate diagnosis, says Zarin. In her daughter’s case, medical experts had speculated that Lyme disease was the culprit before Allyson was ultimately diagnosed with arthritis at age 13, she explains.
“My role as a mom was to make sure she had the proper doctors and got the right diagnosis,” says Zarin.
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with a form of arthritis, you’ll want to establish an open, honest relationship with your medical provider as you both work to manage the disease.
Managing arthritis calls for a balance of self-care and medical care, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Your doctor can prescribe pain relievers such as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), acetaminophen, topical gels and creams, corticosteroids, or even antidepressants for symptom relief, adjusting dosages based on your body’s response to the medication. Surgery to replace a joint or improve alignment may be an option for some cases of severe arthritis.
“The main goal is to individualize a treatment and management plan, so you can be as comfortable as possible, living with arthritis,” says Dr. Curtis Waln, internist with Banner Health Clinic specializing in internal medicine in Greeley, CO.
DIY arthritis relief
You can also take action to help ease arthritis symptoms. Exercising appropriately and maintaining a healthy weight is by far the most important thing you can do, say experts. (Be sure to consult with your physician before you begin any type of exercise program.) Dropping even a few pounds can relieve stress on your joints, and keeping your body moving can decrease pain and give you a better range of motion.
“It’s counter-intuitive because you may feel you are in pain to exercise, but the right kind of exercise can relieve symptoms,” says Dr. Waln.
In fact, people with arthritis who stay active report a better quality of life than arthritis sufferers who are inactive, suggests a study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.
Arthritis can weigh on people’s minds because it’s a chronic disease, but staying positive helps, Dr. Waln explains.
“It’s up to the individual to stay on top of it,” he says.
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