Osteoarthritis, a common degenerative disorder that impacts the structure and functional capacity of the joints, is the most prevalent form of arthritis. The condition affects millions of Americans at every phase of the life span, although the vast majority of those with osteoarthritis are middle-aged or elderly. This discussion will offer a concise overview of a number of the chief defining components and characteristics of osteoarthritis.
In spite of the prevalence of osteoarthritis, there remains some controversy surrounding the etiology of the condition. It appears that there are a number of factors and variables that are related to the development and manifestation of osteoarthritis.
Chief among these factors is the loss of protein and increased water content that characterizes the cartilage of older adults. These physiological changes, paired with the accumulation of a lifetime of often-repetitive use of the joints, can result in the painful irritation and inflammation of the joints that is the chief symptom of osteoarthritis. The continued deterioration of cartilage serves to increase the rate of friction between bones, thereby increasing the level of pain associated with movement and daily activity.
Although there is an array of symptoms commonly associated with osteoarthritis, the most prevalent sign of the condition is the inflammation and pain that results from the degeneration of cartilage and the increased friction between bones. The following are also signs commonly reported:
- Limited mobility and functionality
- A sensation of warmth
- Audible creaking of bones
The most common sites for painful swelling and discomfort associated with osteoarthritis are the large, weight-bearing joints of the body, such as the hips and knees, other body parts are also frequently impacted.
Most patients with osteoarthritis experience similar types of symptoms. However, there exists a great deal of variation between patients in the degree, magnitude, and general experience of osteoarthritis symptoms.
Recent years have seen a number of advances in the treatment of osteoarthritis and its variants. Most promising has been the development of new classes of increasingly effective anti-inflammatory agents. However, some additional contraindications have served to limit the widespread use of such drugs.
The basic course of the disease, by which cartilage degenerates, remains largely unchecked. As such, the prognosis for patients with osteoarthritis is usually relatively poor in the long-term, as the basic progress of cartilage deterioration cannot be reversed, even though more effective means of controlling osteoarthritis-related pain and inflammation have been developed. In some of the most severe cases, surgery may be required.
However, at the current juncture, researchers have begun to seek out alternative methods of treatment that may actually focus on reversing the course of cartilage deterioration. The widespread availability of such treatments would likely revolutionize the prognosis associated with a diagnosis of osteoarthritis.