People with Arthritis
Musculoskeletal disability is the most prevalent of the major health problems of our aging population. Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, compared with other chronic diseases, appear to make the greatest contribution to subsequent disability among the elderly. Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases pose special problems for analysis. There are many forms of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form and the most frequent joint disorder in seniors. It is also one of the major reasons why seniors limit their activities. Arthritis is due to the wearing down of cartilage, which is the material that cushions the ends of the bones. Some researchers believe that when the joints are unable to react properly to stress, the cartilage is damaged. This leads to the development of arthritis.
The joints most commonly affected by arthritis are weight-bearing joints, such as feet, knees, hips and spine. Other joints, such as finger and thumb joints, may also be affected. The key risk factors for the development of arthritis are age, excess weight, injury and complications from other conditions, heredity and lack of physical activity. Arthritis can develop because of previous joint injuries or joint inflammation, hereditary joint conditions, or diseases that affect the joints (such as diabetes). Joint injury can also occur when joints are put under repetitive, high impact stress for long periods of time. Some very specific types of arthritis can result from hereditary factors. Arthritis symptoms such as pain, stiffness, fatigue and fear of harming oneself often lead people with arthritis to avoid exercise. Ironically, inactivity can worsen arthritis problems.
Research done so far
Researchers are trying to understand how the body itself contributes to the disease process. They are studying how the body works and what changes accompany various types of arthritis. Scientists are researching how heredity increases risk for certain types of arthritis. A third area of research into causes of arthritis looks at how infections set off or slow down the immune system's response. The fourth factor in research into the causes of arthritis, environment, is getting renewed attention. Here, scientists are looking at how where and how you live influence your risk for certain types of arthritis. Many tests have been developed to aid doctors in diagnosing various types of arthritis. In addition, research has helped doctors look for patterns of symptoms associated with certain types of arthritis. Stopping arthritis before it ever starts or preventing disability once you have arthritis holds the greatest hope for the future. Research is just beginning to pick up steam in the area of prevention.
Future holds promise
Research in arthritis holds great promise for discoveries that will help many people. Scientists may be able to correct malfunctions in the immune system. They may be able to immunize people against bacteria or viruses that trigger some forms of arthritis. And they may be able to prevent types of arthritis from ever happening by identifying and eliminating those factors that cause them. One of the biggest areas of future research will concern genes and gene replacement. Some forms of arthritis probably result from genes that have the wrong set of instructions. If scientists can find out exactly how genes influence the development of a particular type of arthritis, they may eventually be able to replace a gene that increases your risk for disease with one that carries no increased risk. Sometimes, scientists find things that cause or increase our risk for disease by studying differences in patterns of disease in large groups of people.