Arthritis is one of Australia’s most common and costly diseases, impacting over 3.6 million Australians (1 in 7) and costing $14 billion a year. Despite this, research funding into arthritis and other chronic musculoskeletal conditions remains at historically low levels, keeping us ‘dangerously in the dark’ about this health priority1.

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA), which causes pain in the joints by causing the cartilage that cushions and protects the ends of bones to gradually wear away. This can cause the bone to rub directly against other bone, causing inflammation and swelling of the joint. Eventually the bones may start to grow bony spurs, which can also be painful.

In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the body’s immune system attacks the joints and other tissues, causing pain, stiffness and swelling in the muscles, tendons, ligaments and other connective tissue around the affected joint. This form of arthritis tends to be symmetrical, affecting the same joints on both sides of the body, for example both hands or both feet. About two to three times more women than men get rheumatoid arthritis. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis vary from person to person and may seem to come on suddenly. They can include joint pain, fever, fatigue, weight loss, tiredness and a feeling of extreme exhaustion. Over time the condition can damage the joints, and other organs in the body, such as the eyes and lungs.

RA can affect any joint, but it most commonly occurs in the knees, hips, hands and feet. It can also affect the lining of the lungs, heart and skin, as well as other parts of the body. It usually occurs between the ages of 30 and 60, and it is more common in females than in males.

There is no cure for psoriatic arthritis, but treatment can help to reduce symptoms and prevent joint damage. The most effective medicines are known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and are best started early in the course of the condition. Some DMARDs are not suitable for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so it is important to discuss your medications with your doctor, particularly if you plan to become pregnant or breastfeeding. For more information about DMARDs, see the Australian Rheumatology Association Medicine Information Sheets.

People living with arthritis can help to manage their symptoms by following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking and managing stress. They can also improve their quality of life by joining a support group, talking to their GP or consulting a specialist rheumatologist. They can also look into alternative therapies such as meditation and tai chi, which can be beneficial to the overall health of people with arthritis by relieving stress and helping to strengthen muscles. People with arthritis can live a full and active life, but it is important to recognise their limits and to take care of themselves by seeing a doctor if their condition worsens or becomes more severe.

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