An arthritis patient journey
Arthritis is a very common condition that causes inflammation and pain in joints. It affects all genders and all ages. Current figures suggest around 10 million people in the UK are affected. Currently, there is no cure for arthritis however pain and stiffness can be managed to allow you to live a full and active life.
There are two common types of arthritis – Osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
- Osteoarthritis (OA) -The most common form of arthritis. It is often seen in those over the age of 40 however it can occur at any age. Figures suggest women are more likely to be affected by OA and symptoms include joint pain and joint stiffness which may have developed over time. That pain may begin to impact your daily life depending on which joints are affected. OA often affects the joints in the hands, knees, hips, spine, and feet.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) - A long term disease that causes the joints to become inflamed causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. The affected area may look swollen and red, and feel warm to touch - but this can vary between people. The most commonly affected joints are wrists, hands, and feet. RA often strikes between the ages of 30-50 and three times more women are affected than men.
Other arthritis-related conditions include:
- Gout - a painful build-up of sodium urate crystals caused by excess uric acid in the blood
- Pseudogout - a similarly painful build-up of a different substance, calcium pyrophosphate
- Psoriatic arthritis - a form of arthritis that affects people living with psoriasis
- Spondylitis and Spondylosis - inflammatory joint problems affecting the spine
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus or ‘SLE’) - a condition where the body's own immune system starts to attack and cause inflammation in healthy cells, tissues, and organs.
If you suspect you have any of these conditions you should make an appointment to see your general practitioner (GP) or other qualified healthcare professional.
What to expect when you visit your GP
Your GP will ask about the symptoms you are experiencing - whether you are in any pain, which areas are most painful and how this affects your daily activities. They may also ask whether you have suffered from any recent infections (such as a sore throat), if you have injured yourself in the past and about your general health (including whether you suffer from any other medical problems such as psoriasis).
Any family history of arthritis is also important so do tell your GP anything which you feel may help with your diagnosis.
During your visit, your GP may also carry out an examination of your joints looking for swelling, tenderness, redness, and heat, and will test the range of movement in any affected joints.
Depending on the type of arthritis your doctor suspects you have, they may decide to refer you for further tests such as X-rays or blood tests. However, these tests are not always necessary in order for your doctor to make a diagnosis. Remember to talk through any concerns you have with your doctor.
Your GP may decide to refer you to a specialist. If an inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is suspected, you may be referred to a rheumatologist (an expert in musculoskeletal and autoimmune disease). In the case of advanced osteoarthritis, an orthopedic surgeon may be consulted. Specialists are likely to carry out further investigations including specific blood tests, further imaging tests (such as X-rays, MRI scans) and possibly aspiration (taking a sample of fluid from a joint for laboratory analysis).
Currently, there is no cure for arthritis-related conditions however there are many different things you can do to lead a full and active life.
Treatment of OA is usually aimed at reducing pain and improving movement. Pain relief will most often involve simple painkillers initially. Physiotherapy, exercise, weight loss, and walking aids may all help too.
If these more common treatments do not improve symptoms braces and splints may be recommended to reduce pain and further damage. Sometimes steroid joint injections are used and in some cases, surgery can be necessary in the form of arthroscopy (to look inside a joint), joint replacement (either partial or complete), or joint fusion.
Treatment of inflammatory arthritis (RA) depends on the diagnosis and may include creams and ointments, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), recently developed genetically-engineered anti-inflammatory drugs called biologics, and possibly steroids. Some inflammatory conditions (such as gout) can be greatly improved by dietary modifications.
Alternative and complementary medicines such as massage and acupuncture (where fine needles are inserted in certain points on the body to bring relief) may also help in some cases however there is little evidence to support this.
talkhealth is happy to recommend National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society as a charity offering excellent care and support for arthritis sufferers.
Sources used in writing this article are available on request.
Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 17 April 2020
Next review: 17 April 2023