Lifestyle Editor | Kyrie Roxby
Happy World Arthritis Day! – they say, not at all ironically.
There are so many days and weeks in the calendar each year to celebrate or raise awareness of various things. We’re all aware of some already: anti-bullying week (the one they used to bombard you with posters for in school), Valentine’s day (we all know that commercial blowout scam) and the lesser known focus of this awareness feature: world arthritis day.
Arthritis is a disease that causes painful inflammation and stiff joints. Living with arthritis can be incredibly painful and difficult, affecting your ability to carry out simple everyday tasks such as: walking, climbing stairs, kneeling (or any type of movement for the affected area at all really), hygiene, finger grip and eating (the horror!).
According to the NHS, around 10 million people in the UK currently have arthritis. It is recognised as the leading cause of disability and hugely affects your quality of life, with 68% of people with arthritis reporting depression when their pain is at its worst according to Arthritis Care (2011).
Why is this relevant to you, you ask?
Arthritis is mostly thought of as a ‘given’ sign of ageing; those aches and pains you start getting once you reach a certain point in your life. While it is most common in elderly people, the biggest misconception about arthritis is that it’s an old person’s disease. That it only becomes your problem once you reach a certain age and start having to be careful about breaking a hip or hurting your wrinkly gnarled fingers. That it is inevitable for all those who age. However, that isn’t necessarily the case – according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly two-thirds of people with arthritis are younger than 65.
People commonly assume arthritis is a side effect of ageing because the most common type of arthritis (osteoarthritis), can develop and worsen over time as you age. However, rheumatoid arthritis (the autoimmune type of arthritis and second most common), can develop at any age.
It’s not uncommon, occurring in 12,000 children in the UK (1 in 1000) under the age of 16, with 1 in 10,000 children being diagnosed each year according to the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS).
Childhood arthritis is known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). It occurs before your sixteenth birthday and is slightly more common amongst girls. According to the charity Versus Arthritis in 30% of cases arthritis can remain active into adult life but you can grow out of JIA with the proper treatment and if it is diagnosed early.
JIA can be triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There is no known reason how JIA is triggered as an autoimmune disease (idiopathic actually means ‘any disease or condition that arises spontaneously’ for reasons unknown).
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for arthritis, it is only treatable with medications and carefully established diets and exercise to help soothe the symptoms to try and prevent further damage, disability or permanent deformity (which apparently can actually happen). Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment are key. The myth of acupuncture being able to help with arthritis is largely a placebo. And, no, cracking your knuckles won’t give you arthritis either (while we’re on the subject of myths).
You can only reduce the risk through, as with every other health concern, maintaining a good standard of exercise and a healthy balanced diet. It’s never too early to start preventative measures against elderly diseases or expanding your knowledge about myths and misconceptions about them. Which is hopefully what makes this article relevant to you: a university student.