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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Liz Connor and Sian Hewitt

World Arthritis Day: What is arthritis and how can I spot the symptoms?

October 12 will mark World Arthritis Day, and one living legend has opened up on his battle with the condition.

Around 10 million people suffer from arthritis in the UK, and Rolling Stones guitar hero Keith Richards is one of them. Yet many of us are still in the dark about what it is and how to spot the symptoms.

The Stones have sounded as ageless as ever with their new album, Hackney Diamonds, but it hasn’t been as easy to record as it used to be in times gone by.

Speaking of the arthritis in his hands, he said to the BBC: “Funnily enough, I’ve no doubt it has (affected my playing), but I don’t have any pain, it’s a sort of benign version,” he says. “I think if I’ve slowed down a little bit it’s probably due more to age.

“And also, I found that interesting, when I’m like, ‘I can’t quite do that anymore,’ the guitar will show me there’s another way of doing it. Some fingesr will go one space different and a whole new door opens.

“And so you’re always learning. You never finish school, man.”

Here, Mr Joyti Saskena, Total Orthopaedics Consultant at Highgate Private Hospital, tells you everything you need to know about the condition.

What is arthritis and how many different types of the condition are there?

Arthritis is a term often used to mean any disorder that affects joints. Symptoms generally include joint pain and stiffness, but you may also experience redness, warmth, swelling, and decreased range of motion of the affected joints. In, some types other organs are also affected. Onset can be gradual or sudden.

There are more than 100 different forms of arthritis and related diseases with Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis being the most common types.

What is the difference between Rheumatoid arthritis and Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA)

In Osteoarthritis, the protective cartilage inside the joint breaks down. This makes the movement of affected joints more difficult and painful. In time, bones of the joint may rub directly against one another, causing severe pain.

Pain can also come from parts of your joint other than the cartilage, such as bone, synovium (lining of the joint) and ligaments. The intensity of OA pain varies from person to person and can range from mild to severe.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

In Rheumatoid Arthritis, the joints and other organs are attacked by the body’s immune system. The immune system normally protects a person from viruses, bacteria and other invaders. In people with autoimmune diseases like RA, it becomes overactive and attacks healthy tissue.

In the case of RA, the immune system primarily goes after the lining of the joints called the synovium. Over time, the persistent inflammation breaks down the joint and damages it permanently. Pain in RA can come from other parts of your joint besides the synovium, such as bone and ligaments.

At what age do you start getting arthritis?

It often starts when a person is between 40 and 50 years old. However, it can develop much earlier particularly if there has been a history of trauma or injuries. Women are three times more likely to be affected than men.

Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis are two different conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body's immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling.

What is the cause of arthritis?

Most types of arthritis are caused by several factors acting together. You may be naturally more likely to develop certain disorders as a result of your genetic makeup. A variety of external factors may increase the risk further if you’re susceptible to a condition. These include environmental factors – for example:

  • Previous injury
  • Infection
  • Occupations which are very physically demanding
  • Trauma

What symptoms should we look out for?

  • Pain in the joints is the most common symptom
  • Pain at rest and at night often occurs as the arthritis progresses
  • Stiffness in the joints with reduced range of motion
  • You are unable to sit or stand for long periods of time
  • Swollen joints, for example, knuckles or feet
  • Difficulty with everyday activities such as putting on shoes and socks, getting in and out of a car or bath, stairs

Is there anything the person can do before seeking medical treatment?

  • Maintain a balanced diet
  • Keep your weight under control 
  • Exercise to strengthen muscles around the joint
  • Strengthen core muscles, yoga and pilates are particularly good for this
  • Take joint supplements to support joint health
  • If the pain persists one can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen
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