Haims column: What you need to know about arthritis

Judson Haims
Judson Haims

If you’ve got arthritis, you’re all too aware how disabling it can be. If you’ve heard about it or know people with it, but don’t really know much about it, read on.

Arthritis is an inflammation joint disease that affects people of all ages and sexes. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, and there are many different causes and treatments.

Two of the most common types are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA). RA often causes joints in the wrist, hands and feet to become inflamed, swollen and stiff as a result of the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking cells in the joint lining. It’s an autoimmune disease that effects women more often than men.

While OA is not an autoimmune disease, the exact cause is not known. OA is believed to occur because the body is unable to repair tissue within the joint as it breaks down from wear and tear, injury, obesity and weak muscles.

Genetics are believed to play a role in both RA and OA.

Symptoms of arthritis

Symptoms of RA and OA differ. RA symptoms typically begin slowly over time. Often, people start to notice stiffness, pain and tenderness in their joints. Sometimes these symptoms present themselves for a while and then disappear. Unfortunately, once symptoms reappear, the frequency of recurrence often increases.

RA is an insidious disease that can affect the entire body. Visual symptoms can frequently be seen in inflammation and/or deformation of the joints within the hand and feet. However, because it is an autoimmune disease, skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels may be affected.

Often symptoms of RA include a general feeling of discomfort, uneasiness and pain that are not specific to any one area. Tiredness, lack of energy and motivation, loss of appetite and mild fever also can be warning signs.

OA has long been thought to occur due to the wearing down of joints over time. Thus, weight-bearing joints such as the neck, fingers, hips, lower back, knees and feet are commonly affected.

Symptoms associated with OA are pain and swelling when using the joints; stiffness, numbness, cracking and popping of the joints; and bone spurs often found on the spine and neck.

Diagnosing RA and OA

Diagnosis of RA and OA differ. RA is often clinically diagnosed by performing a thorough medical history, defining the location of joint pain, and learning about the duration of stiffness — particularly in the morning.

Frequently, when medical professionals believe that conditions present as RA, they will suggest running a complete blood count (CBC) along with other laboratory tests that look at antibodies and biological markers.

OA on the other hand is not diagnosed with blood testing. While medical providers may choose to draw fluid from the joints, this is often done to rule out other medical conditions and forms of arthritis.

Typically, when medical providers believe OA is present, they can make a clinical diagnosis. For occasions of doubt they may choose to have X-rays taken. In some cases, they may choose to have an MRI perform.


The first line of defense for both RA and OA are diets that help mitigate inflammation. Diets consisting of fruits, vegetables rich in antioxidants, fish, nuts, whole grains, beans and lentils have show to be helpful.

For RA, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like acetaminophen, Advil, Motrin and Aleve are helpful. Prescription NSAIDs like Humira, Celebrex, Mobic, Enbrel, Zorvolex, and Voltaren are available; however, many people encounter stomach irritation, ulcers and kidney problems with prolonged use. Unfortunately, some of these medicines are quite expensive. In some cases, monoclonal antibodies are used to treat RA. These are laboratory-produced substances that bind to target specific molecules/proteins that cause inflammation.

Because OA is characterized by wear and tear causing joint inflammation and joint degeneration, treatment differs from RA. In addition to acetaminophen and NSAIDs, physical and occupational therapies may be helpful. Such therapies may assist in strengthening muscles around the joints, increase flexibility, and teach you different ways being gentler on your joints — think water therapy.

As with many health ailments, avoiding sugar-rich carbohydrates, salt, fried foods, white flour, and processed foods will help with both RA and OA. There are many options for treating arthritis in general. Don’t wait too long before choosing to see a doctor — they can often guide you to a treatment that’s right for you.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Aspen and the surrounding areas. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is,, 970-328-5526.

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