Arthritis - not just an old-age problem anymore!

Tharini was giving her house a thorough cleaning. That night she woke up at around 2 and couldn’t move. Her joints had swelled so much that it was painful for her to move without experiencing acute pain. A few months later Tharini was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). She was only 29 years at the time of diagnosis.

There are certain conditions that develop in the human body which an individual has no control over. Old age is identified as a period when such conditions aggravate, and one of the most common ones is arthritis.

Arthritis, or in other words the damage that sets up in the body joints has always been associated with aging. Yet now cases like Tharini have become quite common.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis traditionally means inflammation in the lining of the joint which makes it swollen and stiff. Thus a person experiences difficulty in movement, and even simple everyday activities seem painful – whether it is just changing clothes, writing a note, typing and even walking. Arthritis and old age have always been known to go hand in hand and factors like depleting calcium, wear and tear of ligaments and weak joints have been known to be the leading causes. But when such an ailment starts to seep into the youth, it is definitely something to take notice and ponder over.

Take for instance Tharini, she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis which is a debilitating autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and swelling in the joints and surrounding tissue at an age when people would mostly be concerned over lifestyle diseases.

Are youngsters prone to arthritis?

Against popular misconception, arthritis is not just a condition that one develops. Obesity, lack of an active lifestyle, injury to bones or muscles, hereditary defects in the alignment of legs etc. lead to early degeneration of muscles and cartilage around the joints. Thus even children and teenagers fall prey to arthritis, causing their lives to fall apart. In India, and worldwide, cases in Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (or JIA) have been mounting. The main problem with JIA is that it is identified very late in the day, as early symptoms from children are ignored as a sports injury or other strenuous activity.

How can JIA be treated?

Juvenile means that the patient is of or younger than 16 years. Idiopathic means that the cause of arthritis is unknown. Arthritis means that one or more of the joints are inflamed. Over the age of 16 years, other types of arthritis may be diagnosed such as ankylosing spondylitis and adult rheumatoid arthritis. The problem usually starts with one joint at first, and then spreads. So next time your kid suffers from a painful ankle, achy neck or swollen fingers, do not sideline it completely.

An early diagnosis and aggressive treatment are what is needed next. Though there is still no cure for this condition, medications are prescribed to maintain joint movement and strength and pain or swelling is reduced so that the child can return to normal everyday activities as soon as possible.

The rise in younger patients suffering from osteoarthritis calls for increasing awareness in them about the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. Apart from timely diagnosis and treatment, it is also important to educate our young ones why it is important to walk, cycle and perform regular exercise!

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