Osteoarthritis (OA) is a form of arthritis. OA is a chronic condition in which the cartilages that cover the ends of the bones wear down and the resulting exposed bones rub against each other causing pain. This ultimately leads to stiffness and loss of joint functionality. OA affects only the joints unlike the other forms of arthritis which affects the organs.
The characteristic feature of osteoarthritis is that , it can affect any joint in our body. Any part of the body with joints such as knee, hip, elbow, shoulder , ankle, or spine are affected and are termed knee osteoarthritis, hip osteoarthritis, elbow osteoarthritis, shoulder osteoarthritis, ankle osteoarthritis, or spine osteoarthritis respectively. OA of the fingers and the toes also occur. Cervical osteoarthritis causing changes in the discs and neck joints , is also a type of OA.
There are a number of factors that are suspected to be the cause of osteoarthritis . One of the important cause is, the wearing of the protective cartilages around the joint and the insufficient repairment of the situation. Some of other factors held responsible can be genes , obesity , gender and patients suffering from joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout. OA of the fingers and the toes are found to have a genetic history and occur more in females. Obesity can put stress on the knee joints.
Since OA primarily affects joints, pain in joints and swelling are the most commonly noted symptoms. Redness around the affected joints and difficulty in the movement of joints are the other unavoidable symptoms. Presence of bone spur; stiffness of the joints seen mainly when not used for sometime are the other common symptoms. Presence of bony enlargement of the joints of fingers , seen at the end (Heberden’s node) and the middle knobs of the fingers (Bouchard’s node) are the visible symptoms in patients affected with the OA of the finger joints.
To diagnose osteoarthritis, a physician performs physical examination of the joints. The physician checks for the tenderness, redness, swelling and range of motion of the joints. Further , X-rays of the joints are taken. Eventhough X-rays doesnot help to visualize the cartilages, a physician can determine the osteoarthritis of the joints from a X-ray report. MRI can also be used for this purpose. It helps in the visualization of the cartilages also. Other tests such as joint fluid analysis and blood tests are done primarily.
Osteoarthritis is not a curable disease , however the the symptoms exhibited by the patients can be treated. Treatments are available to reduce the pain, swelling or stiffness of the joints, enabling the patient to lead an active life. Disease progression can be slowed down by taking medications and strict monitoring of the results after regular tests.
Certain lifestyle changes such as regular physical exercise, caring the joints and healthy diet are recommended. Losing weight is one of the important thing as obesity puts more strain on the joints. In certain cases, doctors may suggest arthroscopy such as knee arthroscopy , elbow arthroscopy or shoulder arthroscopy depending on the severity and site of damage.