March 18, 2022

What Does Arthritis Feel Like?

Written by: Omnia Tantawi, MSc

Arthritis: To Feel, or Not to Feel — That’s the Question

Pain, stiffness, swelling, redness, and decreased range of motion; are all common and unspecific signs that you’ve most probably encountered at one point or another throughout your life.

However, if these symptoms are all combined, then you should start to get worried and inquire.

Whether you look up these symptoms online or consult your doctor, you will find the answer. It’s no other than this onerous condition called arthritis.

 

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis happens when your joints and connective tissue surrounding them are inflamed or swollen up. Consequently, it severely limits the functions of that joint it affects.1

 

Causes and Types of Arthritis

While many rumors are circling about the originating cause of arthritis, it mainly depends on which type of arthritis we’re talking about.

There are over 100 conditions that fall under the hat of arthritis. Most commonly, Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. 

The only difference between these two diseases is the cause; while osteoarthritis is mostly initiated by injury, old age, or overuse; rheumatoid arthritis is triggered by our body’s immune system going haywire attacking itself — what we call an ‘autoimmune disease’.

Of course, other added risk factors are — as always — the genetic factor and family history.

Nonetheless, they all share one thing: the feeling of debilitating pain and anguish. 

 

Global Prevalence of Arthritis

According to data from the Global RA Network, arthritis is so widespread it impacts over 350 million people worldwide and is regarded as one of the leading causes of disability.2

 

What Arthritis Feels Like

Whether we’re talking about osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, the burden of feeling and suffering is pretty much the same.

From a patient’s perspective, arthritis is wholly burdensome. Granted, it does vary from one patient to another according to the gravity of the symptoms. 

The severity generally revolves around an inflammatory attack called ‘a flare’ and is impossible to measure because it depends on each patient’s reaction.

In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Rheumatology that tried to convey how these patients feel. The results were rather depressing. 

Some expressed that they wanted to die from the pain or that they felt like a truck had run over them; others feel depressed due to the strain it puts on their mobility. Many complain of extreme flu-like fatigue, feet feeling like they’re on fire, feeling stuck with glue, or like an animal in a cage and the list goes on and on and on…3

The outcome of this study showed healthcare professionals how flares can differ from some patient to another and how it can significantly impact their social life and emotional state. 

It should also raise awareness of the importance of communication between doctors and patients. 

As depressing and scary as some of these patient experiences may sound, you needn’t worry because global efforts, treatment plans, and constant research are being done to improve the burden of arthritis further. Studies like these are excellent proof of that.

 

How Arthritis is Diagnosed

Upon reading about the signs and symptoms of arthritis, they can sound common with several other diseases, and while it’s easy to google your symptoms, it’s always better to consult a doctor.

Here’s a checklist of how your healthcare professional will look to confirm a diagnosis:4

  • Persistent stiffness in joints for more than one hour across a period of months
  • Stiffness that lasts across a period of more than 6 weeks
  • High ‘RF’ and/or ‘CRP’ proteins in blood tests (these are markers for inflammation)
  • Constant joints pain
  • Pain in joints may be symmetrical 

 

Arthritis Treatment

Despite advancements in healthcare and medicine, arthritis is still considered an incurable chronic disease. Thus, most doctors focus on minimizing pain, joint deformity, and inflammation.5

Arthritis patients are usually treated by:

  • Physical therapy
  • Antirheumatic medication
  • Antipyretics and Analgesics (ex. Paracetamol)
  • Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory medications ‘NSAID’ (ex. ibuprofen, etc.)
  • Steroids 
  • Topical agents (ex. Local anesthetic)
  • Surgery for joint replacement

Any arthritis treatment aims to find the right combo that best fits the patient. As you may have known by now that the experience of flare-ups differs for each patient; subsequently, it makes it harder for the treating physician to just prescribe medication. 

For the best management plan, the doctor begins with some options first until they reach the one that works, then they stick to it. It goes something like this:6

  • Educating patients of the disease, risk factors, and what to expect
  • Initiating therapy (Antirheumatic drugs)
  • Considering NSAID (evaluate according to the side effects it has)
  • Considering steroids
  • Physical therapy
  • Assessment (in this case if the patient is fine, they continue with the same management plan, if not, then surgery will be the final option).

The ultimate goal for a chronic disease like arthritis is to prevent joint damage, loss of function and manage the pain as best as possible. 

 

The Takeaway

Patient perception is everything. But unfortunately, some of us may not be that transparent when it comes to expressing how our disease is making us feel – Maybe we’re shy, maybe we think it’s unimportant. Who knows? To each their own.

Nevertheless, communicating with your doctor, especially when it concerns one of the most painful and challenging life-long diseases like arthritis, is key to getting the best care and pain management plan. 

So, next time you’re at the doctors’ office, don’t think twice about disclosing all your symptoms.

 

References

  1. Arthritis Types | CDC [Internet]. [cited 2022 Mar 11]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/types.html
  2. Global RA Network » About Arthritis and RA [Internet]. [cited 2022 Mar 11]. Available from: https://globalranetwork.org/project/disease-info/
  3. Hewlett S, Sanderson T, May J, Alten R, Bingham CO, Cross M, et al. “I’m hurting, I want to kill myself”: Rheumatoid arthritis flare is more than a high joint count-an international patient perspective on flare where medical help is sought. Rheumatology. 2012 Jan;51(1):69–76.
  4. https://www.pharmpress.com/files/docs/bio_thera_Ch06_web_chapter.pdf
  5. van de Laar M, Pergolizzi J v, Mellinghoff H-U, Merchant IM, Nalamachu S, O’Brien J, et al. Send Orders of Reprints at bspsaif@emirates.net.ae Pain Treatment in Arthritis-Related Pain: Beyond NSAIDs. Vol. 6, The Open Rheumatology Journal. 2012.
  6. Kwoh CK, Anderson LG, Greene JM, Johnson DA, O’Dell JR, Robbins ML, et al. Guidelines for the management of rheumatoid arthritis: 2002 update - American College of Rheumatology Subcommittee on Rheumatoid Arthritis Guidelines. Arthritis and Rheumatism. 2002;46(2):328–46.

 

Article written by Omnia Tantawi, MSc
Omnia is an Assistant Lecturer and Medical Researcher from Egypt. She’s an integral part in many research projects that proved promising in revolutionizing the future of Medicine. As a Research Scholar, she’s particularly interested in Personalized & Molecular Medicine because she believes that this is the prospect of the healthcare industry and can be applied to all medical and pharmaceutical specializations. But at heart she remains a wordsmith, so she currently works as a Medical Writer. This transition was fairly easy with an Academic Medical background, ability to adapt to different audiences and passion for research and creation. She always takes the most complex or mundane topics and turn it into a must-read with an unparalleled style. In her free time, she likes to read books, tunes in Netflix or enjoys the outdoors.

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