4 Things You Didn’t Know About Arthritis

May is Arthritis Awareness Month. What better time to bone up on this painful condition?
A Mature Man Massaging His Painful Knee


Most of us, if we don’t have arthritis ourselves, know someone with the disease. Affecting more than 54 million Americans, it’s the country’s top cause of disability. Its most common form is osteoarthritis, known as the arthritis of wear and tear and overuse, which most often affects the knees, hips, back and hands.

There is no magic pill, but there are effective treatments. “Often the best first-line approach to a painful joint is to strengthen that joint via physical therapy,” says Alexandru F. Kimel, M.D., who practices out of Hackensack University Medical Center and Holy Name Medical Center and is an instructor of Clinical Medicine and Rheumatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. “Losing weight to get the extra pressure off the back, hips or knees can also help.

“Many arthritis sufferers get tremendous relief with physical therapy, massage and even acupuncture before needing to take any medications,” says Dr. Kimel. “The only way of knowing the severity of the disease is to see a joint specialist such as an orthopedist or a rheumatologist and undergoing imaging such as X-rays or MRIs.”

When BERGEN spoke with Dr. Kimel recently, he revealed four surprising things about arthritis:

  1. Changes in skin and nails can be signs of underlying arthritis. In psoriatic arthritis (PsA), the patient may have skin changes typical of psoriasis, with red, raised skin lesions in areas such as the scalp and elbows and even in the navel. They can develop a severe form of arthritis which affects the small joints of the hands and axial spine. Many times, patients present with nail pitting and nails on the hands and feet that are thought to be fungal infections, but prove instead to be a manifestation of arthritis.
  2. The eyes can be a clue to arthritis. In ankylosing spondylitis (AS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and Sjogren’s syndrome (SS), patients can develop inflammation of many parts of their eyes—most commonly with a condition called scleritis, in which the white part of the eyeball becomes red and irritated, and also with uveitis, which causes extreme pain with vision, and keratoconjunctivitis sicca (marked by itching, burning and dryness) respectively.
  3. Dietary triggers can cause flare-ups of certain types of arthritis such as gout. Gout was long known as a disease of wealthy kings because of their gluttonous lifestyle and diet. It has been discovered that a diet full of substances called purines—they’re abundant in red meat and seafood—can trigger a gouty flare-up. Other notorious triggers have been well-documented too, including high alcohol intake and high intake of sugar or the high-fructose corn syrup often found in carbonated soft drinks.
  4. Insomnia is often a side effect of arthritis, and lack of sleep can worsen pain. For many patients with RA, OA and the other inflammatory forms of arthritis, pain makes sleep difficult—these patients awaken frequently during the night or have a hard time falling asleep. Some get relief nightly from taking anti-inflammatory medications or even become dependent on pain medications to help get to sleep. Some studies have shown that with better control of the inflammatory disease, there is a direct improvement in sleep. Fibromyalgia patients also have problems sleeping and often get limited amounts of restful sleep. That can mean fatigue and a feeling of malaise the following day, because the nervous and immune systems haven’t had the restorative help healthy sleep provides.

Have questions or concerns about arthritis? Visit njarthritis.com for more info.

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