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What is arthritis?

Arthritis Risk Factors

As we get older, we're all at risk of osteoarthritis, but you're more prone to the disease if you're overweight as the excess pounds put extra pressure on the joints. Athletes and dancers (and women who regularly wear high heels!) who stress their bodies much more than the average person also have a higher than average risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis typically begins in middle age although it can develop in childhood. The disease is two to three times more common among women than men. While heredity appears to be a contributing factor, it isn't the only one. Researchers believe that some environmental agent — a virus, or even stress, can trigger the actual development of the disease among people genetically predisposed to it.

Men are at higher risk to develop gout than women, making this one of the rare arthritic diseases more common among men. Heredity plays a role here, too — up to 18 percent of people diagnosed with gout have a family history of the disease. Other risk factors include being overweight, excess alcohol consumption and taking certain medications such as diuretics, aspirin or other drugs containing salicylic acid, niacin, Cyclosporine (a drug used to prevent the body's rejection of transplanted organs), and Levodopa, a treatment for Parkinson's disease.

Arthritis Prevention and Treatment

There's not much anyone can do to prevent the various forms of arthritis, but you can take steps to avoid flare-ups of gout and rheumatoid arthritis and to manage the progression or intensity of osteoarthritis. Medications are available to prevent gout recurrences and reduce production of uric acid. Losing weight can help prevent further attacks of gout and can also lessen the pain of osteoarthritis by reducing extra stress on joints. Exercise can reduce joint pain and stiffness. While walking or jogging is hard on the joints, swimming or water aerobics provide an equivalent workout without the stress. Occupational therapy can give you techniques for performing routine activities in ways that don't tax the joints.

Treatment for osteoarthritis ranges from over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen for pain relief to stronger, prescription anti-inflammatories and steroids. Medications called DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) can sometimes slow the course of rheumatoid arthritis. When damaged joints become disabling, tendon reconstruction, synovial fluid replacement, or total joint replacement surgery are options for people with both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Natural or alternative treatments for arthritis include bee venom therapy — using bee stings to reduce swelling and inflammation. Some medical evidence suggests that this works in rats, but there's no proof that it helps arthritic people. However, studies have found that another alternative therapy, a form of meditative martial arts, can be very useful. Although it hasn't been studied among arthritis patients, researchers have found that Tai Chi improves flexibility, builds muscle strength, improves range of motion and balance, relieves stress and pain yet is so gentle on the body that almost everyone can do it.