Osteoarthritis is sometimes called degenerative arthritis because it is a “wearing out” condition involving the breakdown of cartilage in the joints. Joint cartilage is a gel-like protective tissue found at joint surfaces that provides support and lubrication during movement. When cartilage wears away, the bones rub against each other, causing pain and stiffness. OA usually occurs in people over age 50, and often in people with a family history of osteoarthritis.
This disease produces chemical changes that cause the synovial membrane (the membrane that surrounds the joint) to become thickened and inflamed. In turn, too much synovial fluid (the fluid that lubricates the joints) is produced. The result of this chronic inflammation is cartilage loss, pain, and stiffness. RA affects women about three times more often than men,* and may affect other organs of the body, including the skin and heart.**
This disease can result when a bone is deprived of its normal blood supply, which may happen after organ transplantation or long-term cortisone treatment. Without proper nutrition from the blood, the bone’s structure weakens and may collapse and damage the cartilage.
The treatment for osteoarthritis concentrates on preventing further joint damage. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss, joint strengthening exercises, and assistant devices (orthoses) are recommended. Physical therapy may also help restore joint movement.
Your doctor may initially suggest acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to minimize pain. In later stages of the disease, several surgical options may need to be discussed. Arthroscopy, for example, entails using a camera to examine the joint and repair the cartilage at the joint surface. Arthrodesis involves the surgical fusion of the bony ends of the joint. Replacement with an artificial joint to maintain function is yet another surgical option.
If you suspect that you have signs or symptoms of osteoarthritis or have risk factors for osteoarthritis, please see your doctor to discuss further evaluation and treatment.