Almost everyone who reaches a certain age will experience some form of arthritis. Arthritis can cause pain in joints that eventually leads to loss of mobility. However, there are treatments available that can ease the pain of arthritis and slow or even reverse joint damage.

What Is Arthritis?

The term “arthritis” is actually not a single disease but a term that covers over 100 medical conditions, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The most common form is osteoarthritis, which generally affects people over 60. However, some forms of arthritis can strike in infancy or childhood, as well. Rheumatoid arthritis causes swelling of the membranes that line the joints and can be extremely painful and eventually crippling. Juvenile arthritis describes several conditions that may develop in children 16 or under.

The thing that links all forms of arthritis is that they affect the joints where two or more bones meet. Joints are necessary to movement and contain bone, tissue and cartilage that normally work together to provide smooth, fluid movement. When arthritis strikes, pain, inflammation and stiffness result. Eventually, this inflammation can lead to joint damage. If the damage is severe, everyday tasks such as climbing stairs, using a keyboard or cutting food can become impossible.

While joint inflammation is the basic definition of arthritis that is not the extent of the problem for many arthritis sufferers. As the disease progresses, arthritis may damage any organ or body system, including the skin, blood vessels, kidneys, heart and lungs. While most arthritic conditions affect muscles and bones, other complications can also arise if the arthritis passes to other parts of the body.

How Big is the Problem of Arthritis?

Arthritis is one of the major causes of disability in the United States. The cost of arthritis to the U. S. economy alone is estimated at more than $124 billion per year due to medical care and expenses such as lost pay from missed days at work. Millions of individuals are currently suffering from arthritis, and as the population’s average age continues to increase, the problem is growing worse.

How Is Arthritis Diagnosed?

According to WebMD, the diagnostic tools used to identify arthritis depend on the type suspected in each case.

  • Doctors who suspect rheumatoid arthritis will often order blood tests in addition to X-rays to confirm the diagnosis. Blood tests can be examined for a factor called RF or rheumatoid factors in the blood. Another test called the anti-CCP test is a better indicator of the presence and severity of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis and some other forms are usually diagnosed with X-rays. Films taken in X-rays will reveal a loss of cartilage and changes in the joint structure. Needle aspiration of the joint may be performed if the doctor suspects infection or other complications.

Will My Insurance Pay To Treat Arthritis?

Most healthcare plans have provisions for arthritis medications and treatment. However, if a person is diagnosed with arthritis and then loses health care coverage for some reason, that person may be considered to have a pre-existing condition that can make the search for health care coverage much more difficult and expensive.

The Affordable Care Act provides protection for those seeking insurance with a pre-existing condition. Under the terms of the act, healthcare insurance providers will no longer be able to deny coverage to a patient based on his or her previous diagnosis. However, patients may have to pay higher premiums for this coverage until the law is fully implemented or until the insurance company voluntarily raises its rates.

What Can I Do To Prevent or Treat Arthritis?

While there are a number of home remedies available for arthritis suffers, long-term medication works much better at controlling the joint pain and swelling associated with this disease. Depending on the type of arthritis in question, the doctor may prescribe simple anti-inflammatory medication along with heat applied to the affected area. Those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis may take DMARDs, drugs specifically designed to halt the progress of the disease and give relief from joint pain.

The Mayo Clinic lists various types of medication, including over-the-counter treatments, that may help reduce pain and swelling for arthritis sufferers. The Mayo Clinic also notes that physical therapy and even surgery may be appropriate in some cases.

Arthritis may seem inevitable, but today’s medical advances have made it possible to have a healthy and happy life even if you suffer from some form of this disease. Working with your physician and others to manage your pain and improve joint function is the best step you can take in dealing with arthritis.