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The exact cause of arthritis is still unknown, but term generally refers to the condition of inflamed joints that are stiff and painful. Heredity and physical stress to joints and bones seem to be the leading factors in the development of arthritis. Damage to joints and the cartilage surrounding them that fails to heal properly will usually lead to an arthritic condition.

Although everyone feels stiffness and soreness in their joints from time to time, people with arthritis usually are in almost constant pain, and the condition tends to get progressively worse. In the worst cases, an arthritic condition can be crippling and cause deformities. By the age of 70, 85% of the population will suffer from arthritis to some degree.

Even though there is no cure or prevention for arthritis, there are a wide variety of treatments to reduce the pain and impact of the condition. Drug therapy can help to reduce the pain and inflammation. Non-prescription drugs that help to reduce inflammation include aspirin and ibuprofen, and for pain relief there is acetaminophen and topical preparations.

Prescription treatments consist of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS pronounced nay-sads), which can be slow to take effect but have milder side effects, and steroids, which can be taken in pill form or injected directly into the joints by a physician. Physical therapy and exercise help to strengthen the muscles around the joints and reduce the stress placed on them.

Occupational therapy helps those with severe arthritis learn to work around the condition to live and work as normally as possible. Psychological support through group therapy or counselling helps people with arthritis cope with the emotional difficulties often associated with the condition. In severely disabling situations, surgery to replace the affected joint is another option.

A few simple things that can be done to help reduce the pain of arthritis and improve mobility include light exercise (being careful not to overly stress the joints and increase the pain and swelling), dieting (as excess weight puts more stress on the joints), and the use of supports such as canes and "walkers" to reduce the pressure on weight-bearing joints.

It is important to consult your physician or pharmacist before using any over-the-counter drugs or treatments. They will be able to advise you on proper usage and can warn you of possible side effects and contraindications.


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