Approximately one of every four seniors will be affected by arthritis. The most common forms of this degenerative joint disorder diagnosed in seniors are osteoarthritis, caused by injury or excessive joint wear, and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease. Both cause deterioration in the joints over time and when they affect weight-bearing joints, such as the knees or hips, can lead to disability. However, proper diagnosis and care can slow the progression of arthritis, minimizing damage to cartilage, joints and bones and lessening the odds of needing joint replacement surgery.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in seniors and is typically caused by gradual wear-and-tear damage to the joint over many years. Other factors, such as previous joint injury or congenital joint defects, can contribute to its development. In osteoarthritis, cartilage that cushions the joints is damaged or worn away, eventually allowing bones to grind together as the joint moves, causing pain, inflammation and stiffness. Over time, that stress and inflammation can lead to bone overgrowth around the joint or the development of bone spurs, which make the joint more painful and can significantly impair movement.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is caused by a malfunctioning immune system that attacks joint linings, causing severe inflammation. Over time, that inflammation causes joint deterioration, damaging the joint lining, cartilage and often causing bone deformity. Affected joints can become red, swollen and warm to the touch, as well as stiff and painful. Stiffness and pain are typically worst for the first hour or two after waking in the morning, improving gradually as the day progresses.
Anti-inflammatory medications are used in both forms of arthritis to control inflammation, stiffness and pain. For rheumatoid arthritis, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs are used to slow disease progression. Topical ointments, heat packs and ice packs are often used to ease symptoms.
Physical therapy is an integral part of treatment for both conditions. Reduced activity due to pain causes weakening in the muscles that support the hip and knee, as does inflammation. That weakness can increase joint wear, damage, pain and stiffness. Exercise is used to strengthen those muscles, increasing joint support for better joint alignment, stability and function.
Joint replacement surgery is the treatment of last resort, used when arthritis has become disabling and lesser treatments are no longer effective. As with any surgery, there are risks involved with knee or hip replacement. Being well-informed can help minimize those risks.
One aspect that is particularly important for seniors to learn about is implant types, especially in hip replacement. Faulty metal-on-metal implants have been problematic lately. Metallic implant debris has caused metallosis in some patients, a condition that occurs as debris builds up in the soft tissues of the hip, which can cause severe pain and inflammation, as well as tissue and bone death.
Several metal-on-metal implants have been recalled, including the DePuy ASR hip replacement systems, popular products that were used in thousands of patients. Some of them have had to undergo more surgery to replace the faulty implants, a costly and painful procedure, and hundreds of DePuy lawsuits have been filed.
Elizabeth Carrollton writes about defective medical devices and dangerous drugs for Drugwatch.com.