A Patient Journey for Arthritis

Arthritis is a very common condition which causes inflammation and pain in joints. It affects both males and females of all ages and current figures suggest around 10 million people in the UK are affected. Currently there is no cure for arthritis however pain and stiffness can be managed to allow you to live a full and active life.

There are two common types of arthritis – Osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) - Is the most common form of arthritis. It is often seen in those over the age of 40 however it can occur at any age. Figures suggest women are more likely to be affected by OA however it is seen in both males and females. Symptoms of OA include joint pain and joint stiffness which may have developed over time, these symptoms may begin to impact your daily life depending on which joints are affected. OA is often seen affecting the joints in the hands, knees, hips, spine and feet.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) - Is a long term disease where joints are inflamed causing pain, swelling and stiffness. The affected area may look swollen and red and feel warm to touch however symptoms vary between people. The most commonly affected joints are wrists, hands and feet. RA often strikes between the ages of 30-50 and three times more women are affected than men.

Other types of arthritis related conditions include:

  • Gout - a painful build-up of sodium urate crystals caused by excess uric acid in the blood.
  • Pseudogout - a similarly painful build-up of a different substance, calcium pyrophosphate.
  • Psoriatic arthritis - a form of arthritis which affects some sufferers of the skin condition psoriasis.
  • Spondylitis and Spondylosis - inflammatory joint problems affecting the spine.
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus or ‘SLE’) - a condition where the bodys own immune system starts to attack and cause inflammation in normally healthy cells, tissues and organs.

If you suspect you have any of these conditions you should make an appointment to see your general practitioner (GP) or other qualified healthcare professional.

What to expect when you visit your GP

Your GP will ask about the symptoms you are experiencing, for example whether you are in any pain, which areas are most painful and how this affects your daily activities. Your GP will try to find out which joints are affected and whether swelling is involved. He or she may also ask whether you have suffered from any recent infections (such as a sore throat), whether you have injured yourself in the past, and about your general health including whether you suffer from any other medical problems such as psoriasis (a skin condition).

Any family history of arthritis is also important, so do tell your GP anything which you feel may help with your diagnosis.

During your visit your GP may also carry out an examination of your joints looking for swelling, tenderness, redness, and heat, and will test the range of movement in any affected joints.

Depending on the type of arthritis your doctor suspects he or she may decide to refer you for further tests such as X-rays or blood tests. However these tests are not always necessary in order for your doctor to make a diagnosis. Remember to talk through any concerns you have with your doctor.

Your GP may decide to refer you to a specialist – for example if an inflammatory disease such as Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is suspected you may be referred to a rheumatologist (an expert in musculoskeletal and autoimmune disease). In the case of advanced Osteoarthritis an orthopaedic surgeon may be consulted. Specialists are likely to carry out further investigations including specific blood tests, further imaging tests (such as X-rays, MRI scans) and possibly aspiration (taking a sample of fluid from a joint for laboratory analysis).

Treating arthritis

Currently there is no cure for arthritis related conditions however there are many different things you can do to lead a full and active life.

Treatment of OA is usually aimed at reducing pain and improving movement. Pain relief will most often involve simple painkillers initially. Physiotherapy, exercise, weight loss and walking aids may all help too.

If these more common treatments do not improve symptoms braces and splints may be recommended to reduce pain and further damage. Sometimes steroid joint injections are used and in some cases surgery can be necessary – in the form of an arthroscopy (to look inside a joint), joint replacement (either partial or complete), or a joint fusion.

Treatment of inflammatory arthritis (RA) depends on the diagnosis and may include creams and ointments; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), recently developed genetically-engineered anti-inflammatory drugs called biologics, and possibly steroids. Some inflammatory conditions (such as gout) can be greatly improved by dietary modifications.

Alternative and complementary medicines such as massage and acupuncture (where fine needles are inserted in certain points on the body to bring relief) may also help in some cases however there is little evidence to support this.

talkhealth is happy to recommend National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society as a charity offering excellent care and support for arthritis sufferers.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 14 March 2016

Next review: 14 March 2019