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What is Osteoarthritis and its causes?

Osteoarthritis is the medical term used to describe the condition that causes joint pain and stiffness due to the breakdown of joint cartilage and bone. At the onset of Osteoarthritis, pain is felt only after physical activity. However, over time as the condition worsens, the pain will become chronic and more severe symptoms such as limited movement, swelling of the joints, and numbness of the hands and legs.

Typically, the most common areas affected by osteoarthritis are the hips, spine, hands, knees and feet, but generally any joint in the body may be affected. The affected joint may emit a crackling noise when touched or moved and some patients have reported pain due to a change in temperature or humidity, although this result varies with each individual.

What causes Osteoarthritis?

While heredity is a common factor, some other causes of Osteoarthritis include joint overuse, abnormal limb development (resulting in arms or legs of a different length), loss of muscle mass in the area that usually supports the joints and damage to peripheral nerves; the risk of developing Osteoarthritis is also greater in those who are overweight. As a result of these factors, the joints become damaged due to overuse and are unable to repair themselves.

Hereditary factor
Studies have shown that there is a greater occurrence of Osteoarthritis in siblings, especially in identical twins. About half of the cases of Osteoarthritis have been attributed to genetics.

Hormonal factor
Osteoarthritis has been found to be more common in women who have gone through menopause as compared to men belonging to the similar age group, leading to specialists to attribute it to the lowered levels of female hormones in the body.

Treatment and Management

In most cases of Osteoarthritis, lifestyle changes, exercise and painkillers are sufficient to keep the condition under control. In more severe cases whereby Osteoarthritis affects the quality of life and/or work, surgery may be considered.

Exercise
For patients who suffer from Osteoarthritis in the hip or knee, water exercises are effective in offering pain relief and alleviate stiffness. Aerobics and walking are also effective in relieving pain and improves quality of life for patients with knee osteoarthritis. Such exercises should be performed at least three times a week for increased efficacy.

Lifestyle changes
For patients who develop Osteoarthritis due to being overweight, the biggest factor in alleviating the stresses of the condition is weight loss. This can lessen the burden of the joints and decrease pain, giving way to a better quality of life in the long-run.

Medication
To treat milder pain associated with Osteoarthritis, the painkiller Acetaminophen has been proven highly effective. However, in situations where the pain is more severe, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), such as Diclofenac, is more suited for treatment.

Surgery
If all other methods of treatment prove to be ineffective, surgery is an option that is carried out. Joint replacement surgery for hip or knee osteoarthritis is not only highly effective but cost-effective as well.

How Osteoarthritis affects people globally

Since 2010, 250 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with having knee osteoarthritis while hip osteoarthritis affects about 60 million people globally.

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