Arthritis is an umbrella term for more than 100 diseases. It affects 300,000 children and one in five adults—two-thirds of whom are under the age of 65. It is the nation’s leading cause of disability.
Arthritis risk factors vary by type, but generally include both genetic and environmental factors, such as age, past injury, obesity and even possibly infections. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA), a degenerative disease that affects 27 million people.
"The course of the disease can be changed by knowing the warning signs and protecting your joints to limit the impact,” said Dr. Jack Berger, WESTMED rheumatologist. (WESTMED’s rheumatologists treat a full range of conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, Lupus, Sjogren’s Syndrome, vasculitis, Lyme disease, Ankylosing spondylitis and various other auto-immune disorders.) Osteoporosis, while not an arthritis, affects many women with rheumatic diseases, and is also managed by rheumatologists along with other specialists.
“Hope” and “optimism” are now words we use to describe caring for patients with arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. “There are so many new treatments and more ways to decrease pain and inflammation than 15 years ago,” Dr. Berger explained. New medications and new approaches to treatment can slow down the disease process. Life-style strategies, like physical activity, weight loss and rest, when needed, can be very effective in relieving pain and maintaining function.
It is important to recognize the symptoms of arthritis early to prevent damage to the joints. Warning signs of arthritis include:
- Swelling and/or tenderness
- Difficulty moving a joint
- Redness around a joint
Because symptoms can develop suddenly, it is crucial to see a rheumatologist if these signs persist for more than two weeks.
No matter what type of arthritis a patient has, the doctor and patient together develop a treatment plan to help the patient improve his or her functional level. Dr. Berger discusses treatment for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis below:
Osteoarthritis – Self-Care is Very Important
A patient may get osteoarthritis (OA), often called wear-and-tear arthritis, after he or she hits 50 or 60 years of age. OA results from a breakdown in cartilage that serves as a shock absorber in the hip and knee joints. The hands are also prone to developing osteoarthritis, from bone spurs in the thumbs and nodules (tender, swollen bumps) on the fingers.
“There are lots of ways to treat arthritis from minimal to the aggressive,” said Dr. Berger. “We tailor the treatment to the individual patient.”
For most patients, exercise to increase mobility, topical pain relievers (ointments) and mild pain medications can bring relief. “Exercise—as little as 20 minutes each day-- is key to maintaining healthy functioning muscles and strong bones,” said Dr. Berger.
Analgesics, such as extra-strength or arthritis strength Tylenol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen can provide temporary relief from arthritis pain. “Cortisone injections may be used to relieve joint pain and inflammation, Dr. Berger said, “but they may lose their effectiveness and, generally, should not be given too frequently.”
Rheumatoid Arthritis – New Therapies
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a condition in which the body attacks its own joints, causing pain, swelling, and loss of function. “Years ago before the newer treatments became available, an RA patient’s lifestyle and physical capacity deteriorated, with the prospect of disability,” said Dr. Berger. “In the late 1990s, DMARDs (Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs) and a new category of treatment--biologic disease modifiers (often called simply biologics) -- were introduced to stop the damage in joints.” These medications “can slow the progress of RA in many patients. There can even be dramatic turnaround,” he added.
Biologics, which are made of genetically engineered proteins, are self-administered by injection or by infusion therapy (IV) in the doctor’s office.
For an appointment: Dr. Jack Berger at 210 Westchester Avenue, can be reached at (914) 682-6532; Dr. Jill Landis at 1 Theall Road, at (914) 848-8769; and Dr. Harry Weinstein at Ridge Hill at (914) 848-8050.