It’s estimated that around 10 million people in the UK suffer with some form of arthritis. And contrary to common belief, arthritis isn’t a condition that only affects the elderly. People of all ages can develop it and, depending on the type, the impact on a sufferer’s life can be debilitating.
So, what is arthritis? What causes it and how can sufferers ease the symptoms? For National Arthritis Week, we’re taking a look at the UK’s most common cause of disability.
What is arthritis?
The word “arthritis” means inflammation to the joints – the connection between two bones. A certain amount of inflammation is a natural part of the healing process the body goes through when it has sustained an injury. But with arthritis, the inflammation is prolonged and, in some cases, the result of the immune system attacking the joints.
What are the different types of arthritis?
Not all arthritis is the same. There are different types of the condition which develop due to various triggers and factors.
The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis is often referred to as “degenerative” arthritis and is generally more common in older people.
In a joint with osteoarthritis, a minor injury triggers the body’s healing process, leading to a build-up of fluid inside the joint and the formation of new bone leading to swelling. The fluid in the joint can also cause thinning of cartilage.
Degeneration is a misleading word, as in osteoarthritis the body is trying to repair itself and can often cause no pain at all. Where people do suffer with pain and stiffness, one reason is believed to be related to nerve endings in and around the joint becoming more sensitive.
Other common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis, where the immune system attacks the joints, causing swelling, pain and stiffness, and gout which is caused by uric acid crystalising in the joints and causing irritation. Both rheumatoid arthritis and gout are two examples of “inflammatory arthritis”.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Symptoms of arthritis can come and go, varying in severity. Symptoms may stay the same for years or get worse over time. Commonly, sufferers experience swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. For some, the pain can be chronic and severely limit their ability to perform daily tasks.
Arthritis can cause permanent changes to the joints. Some of these changes can be seen externally, such as knobbly joints in the fingers. Some damage can only be seen with an x-ray.
Can arthritis symptoms be managed?
Medical treatments are available to help manage the symptoms of arthritis. There are also things that you can do to help manage arthritis yourself. One of the best tools is exercise. Although this might seem counterintuitive, and also difficult, due to the limitations arthritis can cause, gentle exercise has many benefits for arthritis sufferers, including:
- Stronger muscles better able to support the joint.
- Joints which are more supple
- Endorphins, which provide a natural painkiller
- Better sleep, from which the body can repair more effectively
- Improvement to overall health and fitness
What causes arthritis?
There are many different types of arthritis, which means there is no one cause in particular. However, there are plenty of factors which can contribute to or cause joint pain and problems which are worth considering, including:
- Age – osteoarthritis is more common in later life whereas other types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis generally start in younger adults
- Genetics – arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis of the fingers, can sometimes run in families,
- Gender – some types of arthritis are more common in women and some in men
- Injury – damage to a joint, such as a broken bone, can cause osteoarthritis later in life
- Infections – certain viral infections can trigger some types of arthritis
- Lifestyle – osteoarthritis, especially of the knees and hips is more common in people who are overweight. Drinking alcohol can trigger an attack of gout, and rheumatoid arthritis is more common in people who smoke.
Can diet trigger arthritis?
For some, swelling and stiffness is caused by a specific injury, such as a fracture, which causes damage to the joint. This results in post-traumatic arthritis, a type of osteoarthritis.
For others, joint pain can be caused by inflammation in the body, which, in some cases, can be triggered by a food intolerance.
What is food intolerance?
Food intolerances can occur when your body’s immune system mistakes a food protein as a threat, releasing antibodies to fight it. This reaction can result in a range of inflammatory symptoms, such as IBS and bloating, headaches, brain fog, skin complaints like eczema or acne, or joint pain.
While food allergies are quite rare, affecting around only 2% of the population, it’s estimated that around 45% of UK adults have a food intolerance. While for some, the symptoms are quite mild and manageable, for others, the impact their trigger foods have on their health can be debilitating.
Do any specific foods cause joint pain?
Although there are foods, such as dairy and gluten, which commonly tend to get the blame for a variety of symptoms, when it comes to food intolerance, there really are no hard and fast rules.
While experts generally agree that it’s a good idea to reduce your intake of sugar, alcohol, and processed foods to help manage the inflammation that causes joint pain, it’s important to look at more tailored advice if you want to make informed choices about your diet.
An ingredient which causes problems for one person, may be completely fine for another. This is why it’s important not to base dietary decisions on what may have worked for someone else. You may end up avoiding foods which do not cause you problems and miss out on vital nutrients as a result.
Take control of your diet
Getting to the bottom of a food intolerance can be frustrating. A common recommendation is the elimination diet, where you remove one food at a time for a few weeks to see how you feel. But this process can take a long time. And, although many of us commonly react to a few different ingredients, the elimination diet is often abandoned when the first trigger food is found, leaving an incomplete picture of what’s causing the problem.
Get answers faster with Smartblood
When it comes to food intolerance testing, it’s important to do your research and choose a reputable laboratory testing company.
At Smartblood, we offer a comprehensive test to help you take control of your diet quickly and discover your own trigger foods.
Our home-to-laboratory service gives you fast, accurate results that pinpoint exactly which foods you are reacting to. Tests are completed in our accredited laboratory by trained experts, with clear, easy to understand results sent to you via email within three days.
Dedicated nutritional support
Our food intolerance tests include a telephone consultation with our BANT registered Nutritional Therapist. This additional support is there to help you understand your results and put a plan together to make safe, sustainable changes to optimise your diet.