Experts Share Options For Arthritis Victims

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Victims of the many forms of arthritis have almost as many options for treatment as there are variations of the disease.

Experts in the disease discussed those options with Rim Country residents at a "Live & Learn Educational Seminar" July 26. The program was presented by the Greater Southwest Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation and Payson Regional Medical Center's Senior Circle.

A near-capacity crowd in the Mazatzal Casino's Fireside Room heard Dr. Elizabeth Chang, Dr. Amalia Pineres and John Hancock, a registered nurse at PRMC, talk about arthritis.

Chang, who is based in Gilbert, is a specialist in rheumatoid arthritis and is involved in research.

"It is estimated that 70 million adults have some form of arthritis," Chang said.

She recommends having any kind of joint pain checked, followed by screening.

"Rheumatoid arthritis will not always deform joints, but it often does and it can usually be seen in the bigger and middle knuckles of the hands and feet."

Chang outlined the most common symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis: pain even at rest; morning stiffness that can take from one to two hours to lessen; swelling and tenderness around the joints; fever; fatigue; anemia; and dryness of the eyes and mouth. She said RA could also cause nodules and/or inflammation in the heart and lungs.

"RA is a multi-symptom disease, with the joint damage progressing steadily," Chang said.

It can result in work disability, psychological dysfunction, functional disability and more, all impacting the quality and span of life for its victims.

The various medications and treatments prescribed for RA are designed to relieve the pain and inflammation and retard the progression of the disease. Partnering medicine with lifestyle changes help in the treatment of RA.

Screening for RA is just the initial step in diagnosing the disease, Chang said. Batteries of tests are needed to confirm a patient has RA because many other conditions can mimic it.

"Doctors don't have the answer to everything," Pineres, who practices in Payson, said.

"Osteoarthritis is in 12 percent of the population from ages 25 to 74. From the number of patients I see, I believe it is more common and is becoming more so as we live longer."

She explained that bone-on-bone friction results from osteoarthritis and that friction results in bone cysts and more, causing a lot of pain.

"It is usually found in the knees, hips and back. Factors leading to osteoarthritis include age, sex, genetics, obesity, prior injury or trauma, deformity in the joint, nutrition, diabetes, hypothyroid, Wilson's disease and abnormal anatomy."

She said the older a person is, the more likely they are to get arthritis.

Symptoms that are associated with osteoarthritis are pain that gets better with rest, stiffness, deformity -- generally of the smaller knuckles of the hands and feet, popping and crunching sounds in joints.

"Most of what can be done for osteoarthritis you can do for yourself. You can generally diagnose it too," Pineres said.

She said if you go to a doctor about pain you think might be osteoarthritis the doctor should be willing to put their hands on you to investigate swelling and tenderness. An X-ray is about the only other test needed, though on occasion more tests could be required.

Addressing treatment, Pineres said the most important thing someone can do is exercise; if a person has extra weight, they should lose it.

"Even 10 pounds will make a difference," she said.

Tylenol is effective for the pain and is the least risky thing she can have a patient take. Most people can easily take two, 500-milligram pills four times a day -- or 4,000 milligrams per day. Glucosamine has been well tested and been found to help with the pain of osteoarthritis, Pineres said.

She said anti-inflammatory prescription medication also works, but patients should be careful, taking it only for a limited amount of time.

"Cortisone injections can help anywhere from a few weeks to a few months," she said.

Pineres said she feels surgery should be the last resort for osteoarthritis.

She urged the audience to remember osteoarthritis comes on slowly, when something that feels like it comes on suddenly, it is probably something else and should be immediately checked by a doctor. Examples she gave: swelling of joints overnight, with no previous pain; a fever; pain all over; joints locking or giving way.

Hancock said the best nutrition for arthritis is the same good nutrition recommended for all adults.

"Eat a variety of foods, concentrating on more whole grains, vegetables and fruit and low-fat meats, fish and poultry. If you drink, do so in moderation."

Hancock said the best way to lose weight is by eating smaller portions.

"With smaller portions, weight will go down slowly, healthily and will stay off. Proper eating is always better than a pill."

Part of the program included inviting people to sign up for new interest/support groups at the Senior Center focusing on their particular type of arthritis or related condition. Once the interest is assessed, groups will begin meeting in September.

Details will be published as they become available.

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