What is it?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the oldest and most common forms of arthritis and is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the joint's cartilage. Cartilage is the part of the joint that cushions the ends of the bones and allows easy movement of joints. The breakdown of cartilage causes the bones to rub against each other, causing stiffness, pain and loss of movement in the joint.
Today, an estimated 27 million Americans live with OA, but, despite the frequency of the disease, its cause is still not completely known and there is no cure. In fact, many different factors may play a role in whether or not you get OA, including age, obesity, injury or overuse and genetics. Your OA could be caused by any one or by a combination of any of these factors.
What causes it?
Common risk factors for osteoarthritis include.
What are the effects?
Most often, OA develops gradually. It may start as soreness or stiffness that seems more a nuisance than a medical concern. Pain may be moderate, intermittent and not interfere with your day-to-day existence. Some people's OA will never progress past this early stage. Others will have their OA progress to a point where it interferes with daily activities, and the pain and stiffness make it difficult to walk, climb stairs or sleep. Rarely, a person with OA will experience sudden signs of inflammation such as redness, pain and swelling, known as inflammatory or erosive osteoarthritis.
The most common signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis are:
Osteoarthritis most commonly occurs in the weight-bearing joints of the hips, knees and lower back. It also affects the neck, small finger joints, the base of the thumb and the big toe. OA rarely affects other joints except when injury or stress is involved.
How is it diagnosed?
The most important thing you can do if you suspect you have any form of arthritis is to get a proper diagnosis and begin treatment. Your doctor will use four main tools to determine your diagnosis:
your medical history, a physical exam, X-rays and joint aspiration. The medical history and physical exam will be what he or she bases the diagnosis on, using tests such as X-rays and joint aspirations to confirm the diagnosis.
What are the treatment options?
You are the key factor in living successfully with OA. In addition to, and maybe more important than, medications you may take, making healthy lifestyle changes, managing stress and depression, avoiding joint damage, and balancing rest and activity will play a key role in battling the pain and limitations that can come with OA.
The goals of any treatment plan for OA include: