You’ve no doubt heard of arthritis. It’s a common condition that affects a lot of people as they get older. In fact, around 350 million people around the world have arthritis. But not all arthritis is the same. There are hundreds of different kinds of arthritis. Some or more common than others, but all can be extremely painful and can cripple your ability to live a normal life.
But making sense of all the different kinds of arthritis is still difficult. That’s why it can be helpful to think of the condition as consisting of two basic categories: inflammatory arthritis and non-inflammatory arthritis. So what’s the difference? What leads to inflammatory arthritis? And what can you do to treat it?
Inflammatory Arthritis Vs. Non-inflammatory Arthritis
Arthritis is essentially a condition where the protective lining of the joints, the synovium, gets worn down. Usually, this tissue protects your joints as you move. But when you have arthritis, your joints lose that protection, which makes movement very painful. There are a lot of reasons this happens.
But the big difference between inflammatory arthritis and non-inflammatory arthritis is that inflammatory arthritis leads to swelling all over your joints. And inflammatory arthritis sometimes causes more widespread symptoms like fever, muscle aches, and chronic fatigue.
Non-inflammatory arthritis is typically caused by the mechanical degrading of the lining between the joints. The most common reason is simply age. As you get older, your joints begin to suffer from the years of stress that daily life causes. That’s why conditions like osteoarthritis become more common as you age. There are a few things that can raise your risk, however, like obesity and a genetic predisposition to arthritis.
Inflammatory arthritis, on the other hand, is usually caused by a more serious illness.
What Causes Inflammatory Arthritis?
In cases of inflammatory arthritis, it is usually the result of a wider autoimmune disease. That means that the arthritis is caused by your immune system attacking your tissue. In a healthy immune system, your white blood cells produce something called antibodies that attack and destroy dangerous bacteria and viruses. But when you have an autoimmune disease, these antibodies begin to attack your own cells instead.
And in cases of inflammatory arthritis, the antibodies begin to attack the synovium in your joints. As a result, it becomes inflamed and causes the painful joint swelling that makes this disease so terrible.
The most widely known form of inflammatory arthritis is probably rheumatoid arthritis. And the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can be very severe. The inflammation in the joints can gradually destroy them, leading to potentially serious deformities of the fingers or other joints.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to treat it.
What Can You Do To Treat It?
The first step in treating inflammatory arthritis is to protect your joints from further damage. Getting treatment early can prevent the kinds of serious deformity that sometimes comes with rheumatoid arthritis. And early treatment largely consists of two things: 1) limiting pain and 2) reducing the dangerous inflammation.
When it comes to the first point, the most common form of medication is analgesics. Analgesics work by blocking the pain receptors in the brain. Most of the time, basic over-the-counter painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen are enough to take the edge of arthritis pain. But in cases of severe arthritis, doctors sometimes prescribe opiates.
Opiates are powerful painkillers that can sometimes be the only effective way to relieve the pain of severe arthritis, but they carry certain risks of physical dependency and overdose. That makes prescribing painkillers something that doctors are often reluctant to do.
But while aspirin and ibuprofen might not be the most effective forms of pain relief for arthritis, they do have another aspect that makes them good for treating the condition. These kinds of drugs are called NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. And as you might guess from the name, they help reduce inflammation, protecting your joints from further damage. Not to mention that reducing inflammation can also help with pain because it leads to less pressure on the joints.
But if NSAIDs aren’t enough to handle the inflammation, your doctor might prescribe immunosuppressant drugs. This class of drugs works by reducing the activity of the immune system, causing your white blood cells to produce fewer antibodies. That means less inflammation and thus less pain and potential damage to the joints.
But immunosuppressants carry the risk of lowering your immune system to the point that you’re vulnerable to dangerous infections. That’s why, like with any drug, it’s important to weigh the potential benefits and risks with your doctor.
So, tell us what you think. Do you have inflammatory arthritis? What works for you? What doesn’t? Let us know in the comments.