Arthritis is a major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia, and it is estimated about 4 million Australians are affected by it. Apart from the pain and suffering, arthritis has a huge economic impact and costs the country about $24 billion each year in medical care and indirect costs such as loss of earnings and lost production.
While arthritis is often referred to as a single disease it is in fact an umbrella term for well over a hundred different but related medical conditions – conditions which all involve our bones and muscles and particularly the joints where two or more of our bones meet.
Some of the problems caused by arthritis include pain, stiffness, and inflammation and damage to joint cartilage which can cause weakness in joints, instability and deformities. These effects can make simple tasks like driving a car or preparing food almost impossible for some people living with arthritis.
While there are about 100 forms of arthritis, the three most significant – osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout – account for more than 95 per cent of cases in Australia.
- Osteoarthritis: More people have this condition than any other form of arthritis and it is characterised by the “wear and tear” that happens when your joints are overused. It usually happens with age, but it can also come from joint injuries or obesity, which puts extra stress on your joints. Weight-bearing joints – such as your knees, hips, feet, and spine – are the most common areas affected.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: This is an autoimmune disease which means the immune system attacks parts of the body, especially the joints, leading to inflammation. This can in turn lead to severe joint damage if it is not treated. About one in five people who have rheumatoid arthritis get lumps on their skin called rheumatoid nodules.
- Gout: This is caused by a build-up of uric acid crystals in joints and unlike other forms of arthritis which usually develop slowly, an attack of gout happens suddenly, often overnight. While the big toe is the joint most commonly affected, the hands, wrists, knees, ankles, elbows or any other joint can be affected with the condition often being very painful – so much so that for some people, even the weight of a bed sheet can cause severe pain.
Many people living with arthritis are on medicine regimen and you should talk to your pharmacist if you have questions or concerns about your medicine because your pharmacist is your medicines expert. Speaking to your pharmacist can help to ensure you take your medicines properly and get the maximum health benefits from them.