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Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disorder that damages the cartilage tissue in different joints in the body. People with osteoarthritis feel pain in the affected joints, and the ability to move depends on the severity of the disease. Here are some facts about osteoarthritis causes, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

Genetics: Certain genes are responsible for the synthesis of cartilage tissue. If they are damaged or contain genetic mutations, the cartilage will be lower in quality and will not be able to accomplish its function of protecting joints during their movements. Collagen and elastin are the most important proteins which constitute the cartilage tissue.

Excess Weight: Excess weight for a longer period puts a lot of pressure, especially on the knee joints. The cartilage tissue gets spent more quickly than it is replenished, so the bones touch each other and tear, which produces bone proliferation and leads to the development of osteoarthritis.

Mechanical Injury: Injuries, of course, can damage joints’ ligaments, tendons, and cartilage, which can result in degenerative changes and osteoarthritis.

Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis

Anamnestic data and physical examination are of great importance for the diagnosis of osteoarthritis. Patients usually report pain in the affected joints. The pain intensity can vary from mild to severe, but it worsens with joint movements and decreases with rest. Stiffness of the affected joints may also occur, especially in the morning, which is very disabling, but it lasts up to 30 minutes. The most commonly affected joints are the knees, hands, and hips, although there is no rule – every joint can be affected by osteoarthritis.

Physical examination is usually enough to make the diagnosis, especially for osteoarthritis of the knee joints, because the pathological changes can be detected during the examination. They include pain during motion, joint effusion (presence of excess fluid in the joint capsule), instability, and crepitus (crackling sound appearing during knee movements). An X-ray of the suspected joint can also be taken to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

There are several types of osteoarthritis treatment: nonpharmacologic, pharmacologic, and surgical.

Nonpharmacologic: This is the preferred treatment option for persons with mild symptoms and not yet advanced disease. It includes carefully planned physical exercises with the aim to strengthen the muscles and secure the joint movements. The benefit of ultrasound therapy for osteoarthritis remains questionable, as there are controversial opinions. Weight loss in obese and overweight individuals has an enormous impact on symptom relief and on slowing down the progress of the disease.

Pharmacologic: The primary painkiller used in osteoarthritis is acetaminophen (paracetamol). Surprisingly, although it is not listed among the best pain relief drugs, acetaminophen works perfectly for patients with osteoarthritis. This fact is fortunate because acetaminophen has very few side effects and it does not damage stomach mucosa, unlike NSAIDs. Acetaminophen is also safe to use in patients with cardiovascular disorders, while NSAIDs are not. In some cases, if acetaminophen is not enough, NSAIDs can be added to control the pain and inflammation better.

Injections containing hyaluronic acid or corticosteroids are a great option for persons with osteoarthritis. They are administered directly into the knee joint and they can offer pain relief for up to four months. The downside of this treatment option is the high price.

Surgical treatment: Surgical treatment is not recommended and it is only performed in patients who have very pronounced symptoms but do not react well to other, noninvasive treatment options.

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